I was feeling a little under the weather earlier this week and my appetite ran away from home for a couple of days. When I finally started to come around, I was in dire need of a little comfort food so Spouse whipped me up my favorite soup. This simple dish is a great example of how simple, quality ingredients can transform into something far greater than the sum of its parts. The key in such dishes is to be uncompromising in the quality of what goes into them.
Although I love French Onion Soup, I rarely order it except in very good restaurants. It appears on the menus of many mid priced eateries but most often bears no resemblance to a properly executed version of this soup. Good beef stock is essential; either make your own or purchase the best quality available. Fresh herbs make a big difference, as does the quality of the red wine. Use some good crusty bread for the the toasted croutons; the exceptional Belgian loaf from Georgestown Bakery, an artisan bread bakery in my neighbourhood is the perfect choice in this neck of the woods. Finally the cheese should also be the best quality you can afford. Some restaurants pile on great gobs of cheap commercial mozzarella when a smaller amount of a quality cheese would be much better. Gruyere is traditionally used but I like smoked Gouda as well and I do like to blend in a little mozza myself, just because I like the texture it adds.
It may be a 70’s and 80’s restaurant menu cliché item to many but once you’ve tasted a really well prepared version, I promise it will move from cliché to classic in a single bowl. This one breathed life back into my beleaguered belly this week.
Serves 3 – 4
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 quart/liter low sodium beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 medium Spanish onion
1 large red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp ground thyme (or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme)
½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season
4 slices crusty French bread, toasted and cubed.
1 cup shredded smoked Gouda or Gruyere cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella
Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan and add the garlic and onions. Cook until the onions soften.
Meanwhile boil the beef stock until the volume has reduced by about ¼ , then add the red wine, sautéed onions and garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to season. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Ladle the soup into 4 medium oven-safe bowls, top with the toasted bread and then the grated cheese. Place under the broiler for just a couple of minutes until the cheese melts and is slightly browned. Serve.