There are times when I am up for the challenge of trying out a complicated, showy, top-chef quality recipe that tests my skills and wows my guests. Naturally, there isn’t enough time (or funding) to cook like that every day. While the plating and flavours are often extraordinary, they often lack the all important comfort factor. And I must say there is nothing worse than the overwhelming feeling of disappointment if the overall dish turns out to be a failure. That’s when I’ll turn my focus back to the classics – those fool proof dishes that ooze comfort and familiarity.
They are a true testament to the notion that less is more – a few choice (and most often affordable) ingredients can transform into a seductive and nostalgic dish that fills the void left by any previous failures. Coco Chanel’s advice on accessories was to always take one thing off before leaving the house. I find that this advice transcends fashion and applies to food as well.
I think Coco would agree with me that classic Onion Soup is a dish that will never go out of style. This hearty soup is mellow and sweet, simple yet stunning. Slow cooking coaxes out the natural sugars in the onions while wine and beef stock add depth. In this version I used a light red wine rather than my usual choice of a dry white. This added a deeper layer of heartiness which complimented the caramelised onions. So when all else fails, be it a new recipe you tried or a tough day at work, sit back and tuck into a comforting, steaming bowl of onion soup.
Soupe a L’Oignon – adapted from Paris by Williams-Sonoma
- 2 1/2 lb yellow onions
- 3 tbs unsalted butter
- 1 tbs canola oil
- pinch of sugar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups light red or dry white wine
- 8 cups beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 6 thick slices coarse country or french bread, 1 1/2 inches thick
- 3 cups shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
Thinly slice the onions lengthwise and set aside. In a large, heavy pot over medium low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, adding the sugar and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and lightly caramelised, 25-30 minutes.
Add the wine and raise the heat to high. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. Next add the stock, bay leaf and strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs into the soup. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer, uncovered, until the soup is dark and full flavoured, about 45 minutes.
Just before serving, preheat the oven to 400F. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast, turning once, until golden on both sides. Remove from the oven and set aside. Next, remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Ladle the hot soup into ovenproof soup bowls arranged on a baking sheet. Place a piece of toast on top of each bowl and sprinkle evenly with with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and is golden and bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve at once.