Call me a grump or maybe its just this ridiculously cold winter, but I take issue with a designated day where, by popular convention, we are to demonstrate our love and wrap it with an over-the-top celebration. To love someone is to show it every day in ways both large and small. Not that Im against flowers and chocolates and such, its just that Valentines Day seems so predictable and not so all-inclusive. Many of us are separated from loved ones through no fault of our own by death, divorce or geography and sometimes we just havent found that certain someone to set our heart aflutter when they walk into a room.
But with that being said, can we make the day a bit simpler? How about a recipe that will warm your heart no matter what condition your love life is in?
From the belly of Paris old market, Les Halles, comes a soup thats simple and unforgettable. French onion soup is really a workingmans soup. As the markets closed, the workers took to onion soup to revive and unwind from the job of getting food out to the city. Its also served at wedding receptions to cleanse the breath of alcohol before the revelers trek their way home. In this country, its still the most popular of all restaurant soups.
Think about this simple conversion of ingredients. Just the smell is intoxicating. There is a silkiness of the onions and sweetness to the cooking process. The texture is broken with the toasted bread floating on the broth. Then the cheese melted, creamy, sharp in contrast.
The soup is easy to make at home, and the base can be made ahead. For me, two things define this soup: the care in caramelizing the onions and the quality of the cheese. The combination here transforms the soup into, gosh I dont know, something for love itself.
Picture this for Valentines Day: a warm fire, soft music, a bowl of this soup cradled in your hands, a simple salad. Simple. Light yet filling and soothing. So good you wont care what day it is. Its love in a bowl for you and if youre sharing, for your loved one, too.
Goosed-Up French Onion Soup
The base for this delectable soup freezes well.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 6-8 cups)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine (I use sauvignon blanc.)
1 32-ounce container low-sodium beef stock or broth
1 cup water
1 tub Knorr Homestyle Concentrated Beef Stock (optional but really deepens the flavor)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
6 slices toasted baguette (I usually cheat and buy already-toasted ones from the bakery department at my local grocer.)
1/2 pound shredded Swiss cheese, preferably cave-aged Gruyere
1/4 pound shredded truffle-flecked Gouda cheese
MELT butter with the oil in a 5-quart soup pot or Dutch oven until foamy. Add the onions, tossing in the butter to coat the onions: lower heat, and sprinkle brown sugar over onions.
COOK onions over moderate heat until lightly caramelized (light golden brown), about 25 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t burn the onions or your soup will be bitter. Deglaze with the white wine and continue cooing until the wine has evaporated.
POUR in the beef broth, water, concentrated beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. This soup can be prepared up to this point one or two days ahead or even frozen for a month.
PREHEAT your broiler or set your oven to bake at 375 degrees.
TOSS the cheese together in a large bowl.
DIVIDE the soup into heatproof bowls. Place a couple of baguette slices atop each and cover with the cheese mixture. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, or bake for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted, bubbling and a little blistered.
Serve with: A wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with crispy onions and a creamy dressing. I’m a blue cheese fan. Buy your dessert, but make it special.
To drink: Champagne or burgundy. Or mimic the wine you used to deglaze.
Yield: 6 servings.