French Onion Soup Gratiné with Port and Thyme
We had our first snow fall here and the weather has cooled down. My husband is reluctantly talking about closing down his beloved sailboat for the season. He is in love with her and has been pushing the boundaries, unable to leave her and (motor) sailing her up to yesterday with the heater and a hot drink keeping him warm. I, on the other hand, don’t have to close down my kitchen and in fact I am so excited about all the fall cooking I can do before we leave for Paris and Spain for a few winter months.
Lately I have been roasting vegetables, preparing warm legumes salads, a couple of soups, the kind of soul warming foods that are nice to serve on a chilly grey day when the fireplace is warming up our rooftop abode. As I am replacing lost kitchen items, I bought a few onion soup bowls, the kind that can hold a crouton and cheese on top. I saw them on the shelves in my pantry yesterday and knew I had to make an onion soup. I love a good onion soup when the onions are slowly caramelized into sweet oblivion, then the soup is broiled with crisp slices of bread and good Gruyere cheese melting on top, perfuming and flavouring the dish.
I started the soup yesterday but didn’t get to serve it (too much food around here). Yesterday I sliced the onions and browned them on top of the stove with butter and oil (and a little sugar to help them along), then added the stock and cooked the soup for a while to allow the flavours to develop and blend. Since we didn’t get to it yesterday I put it in mason jars in the fridge and today warmed it up before topping it with grilled bread and lots of cheese and placing it under the broiler for a few minutes. It was sweet and savoury, creamy with the slow cooked onion and rich and fragrant with the melted cheese. A real cold day treat.
Onion soup is trés Francaise (very French), hence the name French onion soup. They serve it everywhere in France where they have many variations and I have my own. I like to add some fresh thyme and a little madeira, neither one of which you will find in traditional recipes, but they add flavours that I like. Some cooks add flour to the caramelized onions to thicken the soup, I prefer not to add the flour, the soup is thick enough with the onions, the bread and the cheese.
Onion soup is kind of an intimate dish to serve, can get a little messy. You dip the spoon into the soft, quivering layer of cheese on top, meeting with some resistance from the bread. You lift the spoon to your anticipating lips and the warm, fragrant liquid begin sliding down your throat. You reach for a second, you want more.
Did I wake you up?
Here is the recipe:
4 cups onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, a few extra sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup madeira
8 cups stock (vegetables, chicken, beef or a combination)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
French bread cut into slices
Gruyer cheese, shredded, about 1/2 cup per serving
Cut onions in half vertically, then slice each half horizontally into thin slices
Melt butter with olive oil in a large pot.
Add the onions, thyme and 1 teaspoon sugar (it helps caramelize the onions). Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes until the onion are very brown and caramelized. Be careful not to burn them, adjust the heat as necessary.
When the onions are nice and brown add the garlic and cook for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.
Add 1/2 cup of the broth to the pot and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any bits of caramelization.
When the liquid evaporates add the Madeira and let it boil down until it is almost gone.
Now add remaining stock, salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes, partially covered.
While the soup is simmering, cut a French baguette into round slices about 1/4 inch thick.
Place bread slices on a baking sheet and bake or broil until golden and crisp, not burnt though.
When you are ready to serve heat up the broiler to high. Place the soup bowls on a baking sheet and ladle the soup into each bowl, quite full.
Spoon a little cheese into each soup bowl, then place a couple of slices of the grilled bread on top of the soup in each bowl. Top with a generous amount of grated cheese.
Carefully place the baking sheet with the soup bowls into the oven and broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts and turns golden and brown in spots,
Remove from oven, sprinkle a few more thyme leaves over, garnish with a sprig of thyme and serve immediately.