~ Recipe and story by Chef & Food Stylist, Molly Shuster. Photography by me.
From Chef Molly:
Consider the onion.
While I can’t take credit for the profundity of that thought (it belongs to the one and only, Mr. James Beard), it is the subject at the heart of this month’s post.
Onions are probably the most commonplace, standard kitchen ingredient there is, but they are prevalent with good reason. Onions keep for months, add loads of flavor to dishes, and are amazingly versatile. They provide many nutritional benefits to boot. Storage onions (the standard onion variety with thick, dry skins) are available year-round at farmer’s markets due to their long shelf life.
After all the cold, snowy weather we’ve been experiencing in NYC, I was in the mood for something warm and comforting to beat the chill. After picking up a couple of pounds of beautiful brown onions at the farmer’s market, I set about tweaking a recipe for French Onion Soup that I made while in culinary school.
My good friend Brad generously donated a hunk of Gruyere to contribute to my endeavor. Brad’s family owns an amazing cheese shop just outside of Boston called Wasik’s. Armed with a cave-aged Gruyere from the Swiss Alps, farmer’s market onions and a fresh baguette, I felt success was inevitable. And I was right.
French Onion Soup is the coolest, not only because it is so delicious, but because all you need to make it is a bit of patience and a handful of basic ingredients.
French Onion Soup
2 pounds onions, sliced very thinly,
3 tablespoons butter,
plus extra for buttering the bread
2 oz Calvados
(brandy or cognac may be used as a substitute)
6 cups homemade chicken stock
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs thyme
10 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
*A special thanks to Wasik’s for the amazing selection of cheeses!
salt and pepper, to taste
To start, sweat the onions very, very slowly over low heat. This allows all the natural sugars to caramelize and helps the soup develop a more hearty, robust flavor. Don’t rush this process!
The onions will need up to a full hour and a half in order to cook properly. Give them an occasional stir. Meanwhile, have a pot of stock heating on the stove so that when it comes time for use, it will be warm and ready to go.
Once the onions have turned a deep golden brown, deglaze the pan with Calvados. Be sure to scrape up all the good bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.
Add the chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer for 35-40 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, prepare the toasts. Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the baguette into 3/4 inch slices and lay on a baking tray. Spread butter on one side of the bread and toast in the oven until crispy and golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
Turn on the broiler to high.
Once the soup has simmered, season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into the gratin dishes, top with two overlapping toasts, and sprinkle generously with Gruyere. Place under the broiler and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 3 minutes. This happens quickly, so be sure not to burn your toasts!
*The yield for this recipe will vary depending on the size of your gratin dishes. Ours were tremendous and this recipe only yielded two portions. However, this recipe should easily serve four if baked in smaller ramekins. The ratio of ingredients will remain the same, just be sure to prepare two toasts for each ramekin and portion the cheese equally among the baking dishes. Snack on any cheese that might be leftover.
An ongoing collaboration, please do see more recipes from our series!