Wednesday, March 30, 2011

French Onion Soup With Garlicky Croutons

I love French onion soup. When done right, it's deep, beefy, oniony, and rich. It can be as simple as some onions in broth or as complicated as ... well, as complicated as you like to make it. And it's so easy.

Start with a pile of onions. I used a few different kinds (sometimes I even throw in a shallot or two) but if you've just got one kind of onion, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that.

Cut your onions in half and peel off the outer layers. Then give each half a cut through the middle, down to the root. I don't like long pieces of onion hanging out of my mouth when I eat, so I quarter the onions to make them more bite-sized.

Slice the onions very, very thinly. Throw them all into a large pot to get them off your cutting board.
Next, grab some garlic and mince it as fine as you can.

Add the garlic to the pot, along with half a stick of butter and a bit of white sugar.

The sugar will help the onions caramelize faster.

Turn your heat on medium and let the stove do the work for you.

I also seasoned the onions with some pepper. I didn't add salt, though--the salt would draw the moisture out of the onions, which would mean they would take longer to caramelize.

Some people say that adding the salt at the beginning actually helps the onions caramelize. That could be true. I don't have the devotion to test out which method is faster. So I just do it this way. If you want to salt at the beginning, go for it.

While your onions are getting nice and golden, you can start on the croutons.

I used a loaf of bread I'd baked the day before.

This was a loaf made using the 5 Minutes a Day method. If you like warm bread with your meals but don't have a lot of time, I highly recommend checking it out! It doesn't (in my mind) replace traditional bread from a bread baker, but for warm, crusty bread on a weeknight it can't be beat.

Dice your bread into crouton-sized pieces.

You know, it's weird. I know that these croutons are like the kind you can buy in a bag in the store. But to me, those croutons belong on salad, and these croutons belong in soup. I don't think I could eat French onion soup with salad croutons on top. So please, please, give these croutons a try before you go the bagged route!

Anyhow. Spread your bread cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

Then give them a nice coating of garlic powder. I don't measure how much garlic powder I use--I just keep adding until the cubes have a nice, garlicky scent.
I give them a little salting and peppering for taste, too, and then toss everything together. They go in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they're completely crisp all the way through.

Like this!

Now set 'em aside and get back to your onions.
By this time, your onions should be cooking down nicely.

So it's time to think about how you'll be flavoring your soup.

I like to use a mixture of beef and chicken broth. Balsamic vinegar will keep the soup from getting cloudy. Worcestershire sauce gives things a nice depth of flavor. And the hard cider gives the broth a nice, crisp taste.

Many recipes call for sherry instead of the cider. We don't have sherry in the house, because, well, neither of us drinks sherry. Plus, if I use the cider, then I can drink what's leftover ;)

I've tried this recipe with beer as well. It's equally as delicious! Go for a lighter, sweeter beer, though.

When you've got a nice caramelization on your onions, you can start adding your broth ingredients.

First was the wor-chester-shire-y sauce.
Here goes the beef broth.

Then the chicken broth.

Half a bottle of hard cider is next. The Winter Woodchuck cider is oak aged and has a slight vanilla taste. It's a limited release every winter. I have a friend who goes and buys all the Winter Woodchuck she can when it comes out, she likes it so much.

Then in goes a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Thyme, onions, and beef go so well together, so I flavored the soup with a little dried thyme.

I also added a bay leaf, which you can sort of see under the measuring spoon.

That's a spoonful of deliciousness right there.

To serve my soup, I grabbed a bowl and sprinkled the bottom with Swiss and Parmesan cheese. Traditionally,  Gruyere cheese is melted over the top, but I was feeling cheap and a small wedge of Gruyere was running about $10 that week.

And who am I kidding. I want to eat soup now. I don't have time to wait for cheese to broil in the oven!

A scoopful of soup goes on top of the cheese. It makes the cheese all stringy and melty. Mmm.

With a few homemade garlicky croutons and a little more cheese on top, you've got yourself a steaming bowl of French onion soup! Next time you're craving something warm and homey, give this recipe a try. Now that you know it can be so easy, you'll never want to order this soup in a restaurant again!

Recipe: French Onion Soup

5 onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar

1 box beef broth
1 can chicken broth
1/2 c. hard cider (or wine, sherry, beer, etc.)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme

shredded Parmesan and Swiss cheeses, for serving

In a large pot, combine onions, garlic, butter, sugar, and pepper. Cook onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized (should take about 40 minutes.)

Add beef broth, chicken broth, hard cider, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, bay leaf, and dried thyme. Heat until soup is bubbling. Serve with shredded Parmesan and Swiss cheese and homemade croutons.

Recipe: Garlicky Croutons:
1 small loaf bread, cubed
olive oil, for drizzling
garlic powder, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

On a baking sheet, toss bread cubes with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Bake at 350F until completely toasted.

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