About French Onion Soup

french onion soup
I’m going to say something controversial here, so brace yourselves.

I don’t like that thick, gooey layer of melted Gruyère over top of a steamy bowl of onion soup gratinee.

There. I said it. I know most people adore that bubbly cheese crust, but I think that molten cheese situation is unpleasant and chewy and simply too much. It overpowers the fabulous sweetness of the soup itself. The only thing worse than the dense cheese barrier between me and my soup is the underlying layer of soggy bread. Seriously, what could be appealing about soggy bread?

But I love French onion soup. The deeply flavorful salty-sweet broth and the silky onions are warm, comforting, and delicious. And while I am no fan of the usual soggy bread/cheese crust combination, a few shavings of cheese and a handful of crisp croutons are a welcome topping. I like to serve up the piping hot soup and then pass around bowls of homemade croutons and thin shavings of Swiss cheese. The idea is to add the croutons to your bowl in the very last moment, so they retain their crunch.

As for the soup itself, the ingredients are simple. What you’re really dealing with here is some onions and some beef stock, so the quality of the beef stock is really key. Of course, as with most things, homemade is best. But I will admit that I rarely have homemade beef stock on hand (I do usually have homemade chicken stock, but that’s a whole different discussion). But beef stock in a can is pretty terrible stuff. It’s more or less just brown salty water. However, I’ve recently discovered that good local markets will often house-make and sell their own stock. And if you can’t find the real deal, there are some decently flavorful store-bought options. In a pinch, I like Penzey’s soup base.

This recipe freezes extremely well, so I usually make a double batch. Enjoy!

French Onion Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
11/2 cups dry white wine
8 cups beef broth
3 cups cubed french bread
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
2 ounces shaved Gruyère cheese

In a large soup pot, over medium-low heat melt the butter in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring every so often, until th onions are very soft and starting to brown. This should take about 30 minutes. Be patient! Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and wine and stir well. Add the broth, and increase the heat to medium. Let the soup simmer for 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the bread with the remaining two teaspoons of oil, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the parsley. Spread the bread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until the croutons are golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Top with the cheese and croutons.

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 2:29 pm  Comments (9)  
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Butternut and Feta Omelet With Fresh Mint

omelet with buternut squash feta cheese and mint

I love brunch.  Brunch at home, brunch at restaurants, sweet brunch, savory brunch – I love all of it.  But recently, in my brunching, I have begun to notice that there is a lot of omelet snobbery out there in the world.  From arguments over the merits of adding a splash of milk to debates over whether or not to flip, people tend to be passionate about their omelet preferences.  In fact, omelet eating seems to inspire a level of intensity akin to wine drinking. No, none of my friends have yet attempted to determine the terrior of the eggs from a single bite of Sunday brunch, but such nonsense wouldn’t actually shock me.

I have to admit that I am as picky about my omelets as anyone out there.  I like a splash of milk for volume, but not too much.  I like a slight bit of browning, but no crisp edges.  I hate a runny center, but don’t want my omelet overcooked.  And most of all, I detest a filled rolled omelet.  I like plenty of fillings but want them cooked right into the egg, not sandwiched in pillowy egginess.

So yes, I’m picky.  But just as with wine, I don’t think omelets are about right or wrong, it’s just about figuring out what you enjoy.  Sure, a true, traditional French omelet has no filling and a runny center.  But I’m not a fan.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but to me, the best part of ordering an omelet in France is that it usually comes with fries.  Actually, for years I thought I hated all omelets, but it turns out that I just had to do a little experimenting.

And I’ve even found a few local brunch places that make my kind of omelet, but I still like my own home-cooked omelets best of all.  Particularly because they are a great way to use up leftovers lingering in the fridge.

I had a bit of leftover squash and a few wilting mint leaves to use up this weekend, so an omelet was born.  I love the combination of sweet butternut squash and salty feta cheese.  But the best part of this omelet is the unexpected burst of fresh earthiness from the mint, which cuts through the richness of the egg and the tanginess of the cheese.

This recipe makes one omelet – my way.  If you happen to like your omelet thinner, use a larger pan.  If you prefer a filled omelet, just cook the egg and then toss in the butternut and feta af the end.  If you want to simply skip the fuss and go for a scramble, it will taste just as lovely.  But don’t skip the mint.  It really is worth a try – trust me.

omelet filled with squash and cheese

Butternut and Feta Omelet with Fresh Mint

Serves 1

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sliced garlic

2 extra large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided

1/3 cup cooked cubed butternut squash

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Heat the oil in an 8-inch omelet pan over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper with a wisk until very well combined. Add half of the mint to the egg mixture.  Reduce the heat to low and add the egg mixture to the pan, making sure to distribute evenly.  As the egg begins to cook on the bottom, sprinkle the cooked butternut and the feta cheese over the top of the omelet. Continue to cook the omelet until the top is no longer runny (you can cover the pan to speed this process, if you like, but it will change the texture slightly). Using a spatula to lift the edges of the omelet from the pan, slide the omelet carefully to a plate.  Top with the remaining mint and serve hot.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm  Comments (7)  
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Brie, Brown Sugar and Peach Pizza

grilled brie pizza

Lately I’ve been blurring all the lines between meals.  Oatmeal for lunch, waffles for supper, tuna melts for breakfast.  Who came up with all these ideas about what should be eaten when?  Of course, across the globe all of these lines blur anyway, so while eating fish at 8am feels a little thrilling to me, it’s none too shocking in a global sense.

While I love to rebel by eating a hot fudge sundae for supper, even better are those dishes that bend the rules all by themselves. Like this pizza.

The other night, Jeff and I set out to make a dessert pizza.  We layered our crisp/chewy crust with sugar, cinnamon and ripe fruit.  But something was missing.   Something rich and cheesy.

Really, you can’t go wrong with brie.  Has brie ever made any recipe worse?  I doubt it. And with this pizza, the combination of sweet and rich, crisp and gooey moves beyond the restrictive labels of dessert or dinner or breakfast.  Frankly, this pizza works wonderfully for any or all of the above.  It would make a compelling cheese course or a unique brunch.  We made it again last night and ate it for dinner with a simple arugula salad.

I’ve talked about grilling pizza before, last year when we made this Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza and I’m as big a fan now as I was then.  The crust becomes both crisp and chewy, slightly charred and full of flavor.  It works wonderfully with the soft, rich sweetness of the peaches and brie.  You can make your own pizza dough, if you like.  But I usually take the lazy way out and buy mine from a local pizzeria.  Many will sell you dough if you ask.  And some good grocery stores make their own dough too.

I like to pre-grill the peaches to caramelize them a bit before slicing them up as a pizza topping.  You don’t want to cook the peaches too long, or they will be too soft to slice.  You just want a bit of color on the fruit, and to soften the flesh a bit. And don’t skip the cinnamon.  It may sound like a strange pairing with the cheese, but the combination is surprisingly fantastic.  Trust me.  Actually, trust Jeff.  It was his idea.  Sometimes he’s smart like that.  But only sometimes.

brie cheese pizza

Brie, Brown Sugar and Peach Pizza

Serves 4

1/2 lb pizza dough

1/4 cup flour

1 large ripe peach (slightly under ripe is better than over ripe)

5 tablespoons brown sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 ounces brie, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh raspberries

Preheat a gas grill to medium and grease the grates.  Roll out the dough thinly, using the flour to prevent sticking.

Slice the peach in half and remove the pit.  Press one tablespoon of brown sugar on the cut side of each peach half. Place the peaches on the grill, cut side up, and cover the grill.  Cook for two minutes and then flip (you will lose some of the sugar, but that is ok).  Grill the peach for just two minutes more and then remove from the heat.  Allow the peach to cool before slicing.

Meanwhile, carefully transfer the dough to the grill (it will bend into a strange shapes as you transfer it – just call it rustic and don’t worry about it).  Cover the grill and allow the dough to cook until the bottom gets rigid and slightly charred.  Flip the pizza dough (Jeff has developed a two handed method with a spatula and a set of tongs, but go with whatever works for you) and move quickly to sprinkle with the remaining sugar and the cinnamon.  Top evenly with the peach slices and the brie.  Close the grill and cook just long enough to let the cheese melt slightly, only a couple of minutes.  Remove the pizza from the heat and sprinkle with the raspberries.  Let the pizza cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm  Comments (4)  
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More on Chestnut Flour: Chestnut, Gorgonzola, and Apple Tart

gorgonzola and walnut apple tart

After I made chestnut biscotti last week, I still had some chestnut flour left.  The sweet and nutty flavor gave me the itch to experiment. 

It turns out that chestnut flour is lovely in sweet treats, and equally as nice in savory preparations.  But it’s absolutely amazing in sweet and savory dishes.  The saltiness of the gorgonzola, the richness of the walnuts, the tartness of the apple and the sweetness of the honey bring out the unique earthiness of the chestnut in the crust. Since chestnut flour, unlike almond flour or other nut flours, is not especially high in fat, the texture of this crust is less crumbly and more crisp than a usual flakey dough.  But I think that it adds to the heartiness of the dish.

I’m loving this tart for dinner with a big green salad, but it would be great as part of a brunch spread.  And I’m going to go have another slice.  Right now.

gorgonzola and nut tart

Chestnut, Gorgonzola, and Apple Tart

Serves 6

For the crust:

2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

1/3 cup chestnut flour

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut in pieces

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons water

For the filling:

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

2 eggs, beaten

1 medium Granny Smith apple

3 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flours, butter and salt.  Add the water and pulse until the dough just starts to come together.  Turn out the dough on a floured surface and knead lightly just until the dough comes together. Roll out to a circle about 9 inches in diameter. Transfer the crust to a greased 8-inch tart or quiche pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together the nuts, cheese, and eggs. Spread the mixture in the crust.  Slice the apple into very thin wedges.  Arrange the apple slices on the tart. Bake the tart in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes.  Drizzle with honey and serve warm.

slice of quiche

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm  Comments (22)  
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For The Packers: Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

beer cheese soup with macaroniI’m not actually much of a sports fan.  Oh sure, I watch football every Sunday, but only because Jeff does.  And I have a Patriots sweatshirt, but Jeff bought it for me and I wear it because it’s warm.  Even so, I love football.  Not for the game itself, but for the food. I’m realizing just now that I’m devoting more energy to this year’s Super Bowl menu that I did to Thanksgiving and Christmas combined.  That should probably tell you something about my palate. 

I’d been thinking for months about what I’d cook if the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl.  White clam pizza, baked beans, Parker House rolls, Boston Cream Pie…  but now none of those dishes seem quite right.  However, beer cheese soup, complete with elbow noodles and a generous sprinkle of scallions, is just the thing.  I love Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup, and I love macaroni and cheese, why not combine the two? 

Hearty and rich, this soup feeds a crowd, and will keep well in a crock pot on a buffet table. It’s creamy and cheesy but the hoppy beer cuts through the richness, as does the hint of spice from the jalapeno.  There’s plenty of flavor from the Worcestershire sauce and mustard, but I’m a mustard addict so next time I might add an extra teaspoon of it. And if you like more spice, you could certainly add more jalapeno. Be sure to use a beer you like to drink, because the flavor really comes through. I went for an IPA we happened to have in the fridge, and it was lovely.

And for you Steelers fans, not to worry, I’m working on a Pittsburgh-inspired recipe too!

beer cheese soup

Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

Serves 6

1/2 lb elbow macaroni

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

3 loves garlic, diced

1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

4 tablespoons flour

11/2 cups vegetable broth

1 (12 ounce) bottle beer

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 chopped scallions, for garnish

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a dutch oven.  Saute the onion 1 minute.  Add the carrot, garlic and jalapeno and saute over medium-low heat until the vegetables are slightly brown and very soft. Stir in the mustard powder. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for 1 minute.  Slowly wisk in half of the broth to form a smooth paste.  In a slow stream, wisk in the remaining broth and the beer.  Once well incorporated, add in the cheese and stir continuously until melted.  Add the milk and Worcestershire sauce and then stir in the macaroni.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve topped with a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm  Comments (22)  
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