Friday, September 19, 2008

comfort me with…

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. ~ Sheilah Graham

Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.~ Norman Kolpas

Comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love. ~ The Song of Solomon 2:5

After getting soaked to the skin last Saturday during a long morning at the Chicago Green City Market I came home in search of warmth, dry clothes and comfort food.
For warmth I fired up the oven to roast the golden beets that I had purchased at the market for my favorite salad.
I had made a Golden Beet Salad earlier in the summer with a recipe from The Bitten Word and loved it so much I had to make it again. Please check out Clay and Zach’s fabulous, joyful colorful and informative blog. The recipes are fabulous, their style engaging and their images stunning…you will become addicted as I have.

As the oven warmed up my chill and that in my kitchen, I did my weekly chill-chest clean-out in search of ingredients to produce a dish that would warm my insides. I found that I had as usual, an inordinate selection of cheese in my dairy compartment. Cheese is wonderful, but not the warming comfort that I had in mind...

Then I recalled that I had frozen small batches of a huge pot of the French Onion Soup or soupe de la oignon that I had made a few weeks before.
I didn’t need a crystal ball to know that as the days got shorter and colder and darker, there were going to be times I would need its comfort and warmth in a hurry…

It takes me the better portion of a day to make my French onion soup so that the final product closely resembles the soup that I often enjoy at a tiny hole in the wall Paris bistrot on rue Grenelle.
Cutting that many onions for a double recipe is time consuming, so I make it an event. I put on my fave French movies or music, turn them up loud.
With Parisian sounds in the background, I go to work making a huge amount of this liquid-love that will bring solace and warmth whenever my stomach and my spirit are in need of a comforting taste of Paris.

Now I can imagine that there are as many recipes for onion soup as there are cooks out there. I also imagine that there are as many favorite restos where each person seeks what they deem as the best onion soup that they have ever tasted on this earth. For me personally, I have tasted French onion soups all over the two countries that I call home (the USA and France) and have three places that I adore to go for this warm, cheesy, crouton-y full-flavored rich tasting
bowl of contentment.

When in Paris I go to Café Roussillon, a workers cafe and La Pied a Cochon that has been dishing upsoupe de la oignon in Les Halles when it was the “belly of Paris” and when I am in the US,
I go to my very own rustic kitchen. I know that this will stir up a flurry of opinions, but for me these places have the "soup-chops" that produce heaven in a bowl.

My own recipe is a slight adaptation of Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup recipe from his Good Eats show, A Bowl of Onions. I have made this recipe at least 20 times with thrilling results and dozens satisfied diners at my table, including moi…

My Paris Comfort ~ French Onion Soup
soupe de la oignon

I use a combination of sweet onions (Vidalia, Carzalia or Walla-Walla),
white onions, purple onions (in season) and red onions that are equal
to about 5 or 6 pounds of onions in total.
3 tablespoons good unsalted Butter (I use 365 from Whole Foods or Plugra)
2 tablespoon of good Olive Oil (I love Tassos Extra Virgin Greek Olive Oil)
1 teaspoon Ground Sea Salt3 cups white wine (I use a fruity Chardonnay)
12 ounces Beef stock
12 ounces Chicken broth
12 ounces unfiltered Apple cider Bouquet garni (I either buy the ones sold at Monoprix
in France produced by Albert Ménès, also available on-line)


You can make your own Bouquet garni with one or two bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons of dried thyme, parsley 3 fresh sprigs or 3 teaspoons dried and ½ teaspoon of whole white peppercorns.
I put these in a small square of cheese cloth and tie with kitchen twine.
(Off-season, when I am not growing these herbs fresh in my kitchen garden, I buy small amounts of each dry herb and spice in the Whole Foods bulk spice aisle. This makes it very
inexpensive to wrap up a half-dozen or so Bouquet Garni, and store them out of the light in an airtight glass jar...)

1 good Baguette
Ground sea salt
Ground black pepper or ground grains of Paradise (Melegueta pepper)
Garlic cloves
1 cup grated Gruyère or Fontina cheeses. (I use a mixture of both,
plus a bit of finely diced buffalo part-skim milk Mozzarella)

*** ***

Finely slice all the onions into (Alton says, into half-moons shapes) and put in a large container.

To a large soup pot, (I use my large copper Dutch-oven that is lined with non-reactive stainless steel) and add the butter and olive oil.
After the butter has melted onto the oil, add a layer of onions and sprinkle with ground sea salt.
Continue adding layers of onions and salt until all onions are in the pot. Do not stir onions until they have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes.

After that, you can stir occasionally until onions are dark mahogany and reduced to approximately 2 cups. This should take1 hour.
Add the wine to cover the onions and turn heat to high, reducing the wine to a syrup consistency.

Now add the beef stock and chicken broth, apple cider and bouquet garni.
Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes.
Remove bouquet garni and taste for seasons and adjust salt and pepper.

Heat broiler and place oven rack on top slot.

While the soup is cooking I cut slices of baguette and toast them either
under the broiler in a sheet pan for a minute for a large group or in the toaster for just me.
While the toasted slice is warm, I rub them on one side with the cut garlic glove.
Ladle soup into crocks leaving at least one inch to the lip.

Put in one or two slices of the baguette, toasted and garlic-ed side down.
Sprinkle the grated cheese on liberally.
Place under the broiler (I usually place the soup crocks on a sheet pan)and broil until cheese is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Then be comforted...

(I like this recipe as I can control the flavor and the salt content (sea salts are lower in sodium) as most commercially canned or frozen soupe de la oignon is loaded with salt and other preservatives.

After the soup has cooled to room temperature, I ladle what I want to freeze into one serving ramekins and put them all on a tray into my freezer.
After they have frozen solid, I pop the soup rounds out and put into double zip bags and put them right back into the freezer.
For immediate cold-day comfort all you need is a baguette and some cheese...

I hope that you will try this or your fave onion soup recipe. Dig in, make a big batch and freeze some for a rainy day you need a touch of Paris to warm your heart and in your tummy.
Here is a link to the original recipe for Alton Brown’s French Onion soup.

(This is one of the posts that I had lost due to my computer’s weird influenza…)


Eduard said...

Autumn is knocking on the door in Holland so it's time for this kind of food that gives you "the warming comfort". Imagine; rain & wind outside, a fire in the fireplace, the taste of 'soupe de la oignon'... must be great! Those days are coming!

Camera Crazy said...

This sounds so wonderful, I can't wait to try it. As is always the case the images are just as warming as the soup sounds.

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

Merci beaucoup Eduard and cher Gail...I am so pleased that the images inspire you as much as the are both so kind to me with your support, and that I appreciate.