Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Love You (Snow-day) Soup

About once or twice a winter, Connecticut gets hit with a bad snowstorm. Today is one of those days. Since my schedule has been so crazy recently, I decided to take today (mostly) off from doing work and instead take down my Christmas decorations (Valentine's Day is tomorrow--it is time) and cook myself some nice meals to prepare for the weekend.

My snowy valentines! My loves got bacon leftovers.
As I looked around my refrigerator, I realized that I had the makings of a French Onion soup. I also had bacon. Is there anything that bacon doesn't improve? So after some poking around at various recipes online, this is what I did with my snow-day. The soup takes a LONG time to cook, which is what makes it perfect for days when you can't really do much else. It's also perfect for a Valentine's Day lunch because it's fancy (it has to be-- it's French!), riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiich, and warming.

I Love You (Snow-day) Soup

serves: 2

1) Cook some bacon!

     1 lb. good quality bacon (I used a maple brined bacon from Vermont, which I bought at Whole Foods)

     a) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
     b) Line a 9x13 (or bigger) baking pan with aluminum foil.
     c) Fill pan with bacon strips (should be tightly packed to render more grease).
     d) Cook until crisped but still pliable (usually about 25-30 min).
     e) Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and save the bacon grease (you need 2 tbsp.).
     f) You'll need the bacon grease and 3-4 slices of bacon. The rest of the bacon can be saved for morning-after-Valentine's Day brunch.

2) Caramelize your onions.

   2 tbsp. salted butter
   2 tbsp. bacon grease
   2 sweet onions
   1-2 garlic cloves
   2 sprigs thyme
   1 bay leaf
   salt and pepper to season
     a) Slice your onions in half (longways) and then into thin half-moons. I used my food processor but a mandolin will also do the trick.
     b) Mince or press your garlic cloves. I recently bought this press, and I'm obsessed with it.
     c) Melt your butter and bacon grease together in a soup pan set over medium-low.
     d) Add onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and stir to coat.
     e) Allow these to cook for a LONG time, stirring occasionally. Go read a book for at least an hour. When you are done, all the onion pieces should be at least slightly brown and very soft.

Before and after the caramelization process. The burnt pieces are normal, I swear.

3) Make your soup base.

     1/2 cup red wine (I used Merlot because I have a box of it open. DON'T JUDGE ME! You could also use white wine or beer depending on what cheese you're using.)
     1 heaping tbsp. all-purpose flour

     a) Turn stove heat up to medium.
     b) Add in red wine and stir to mix with caramelized onions.
     c) Allow to boil until wine boils off and onions dry, about 5-10 min. The onions will appear somewhat burnt. This is ok.
The onions getting darker because of the wine. Note that there will still be moisture from the oil, but the wine moisture should be gone.
     d) Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
     e) Turn stove heat back down to medium-low.
     f) Add in flour and stir to coat onions.
     g) Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, to remove the flour taste from the onions. The onions will start to look crispy and burnt-fried when you do this. The dark color comes from the caramelization and the wine, so don't worry about this.
Make sure you cook the onion/flour mixture on low enough heat so that the burnt look is not *actually* burnt. But yeah, it will look pretty bad. Do not despair.

4) Make the soup.

     3-4 pieces of bacon, crumbled
     Quart of beef broth
     Salt and pepper

     a) Turn stove heat back up to medium.
     b) Add in bacon and broth.
     c) Bring to boil, and boil for 10 min.
     d) Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.
The wine and caramelization give your soup a beautiful color, and the flour gives it just enough thickness.

5) Make the croutons.

     4-6 slices baguette or Italian loaf (You need enough slices to fill up the top of an oven-safe bowl or ramekin. I always keep the partially baked Figelle from Trader Joe's in my freezer, so I used that.) 
    4-ish slices of melting cheese. Emmental and Gruyere are traditional. (I used Raclette because I love the heartiness of it. Really, any cheese that melts well will work. You could even use sharp cheddar, but then the onions should be cooked in a dark, malty beer rather than wine. Actually, that sounds delicious. Consider this post to be me patenting that idea.)
    2 tbsp. grated cheese such as Parmesan or Gouda (I grated up some smoked Gouda to go with the bacon.)

     a) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.     
     b) Lay your slices of melting cheese on top of your bread slices. They should be sized to match.
     c) Fill 2 oven-safe bowls or ramekins with soup.
     d) Float your cheese-topped bread on top of soup. You can use additional cheese to fill in any gaps.

     e) Sprinkle with grated cheese.
     f) Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melty and brown. It will likely puff up in the oven.
     g) Remove from oven (using mitts) and dig in. Be careful because it will be VERY hot. Much like your Valentine's Day love for your significant other. Or in my case, my Valentine's Day love for my Vitamix. 
If you want the top darker, stick it under the broiler for a skosh. I just prefer baking because it gives the bread some time to become one with the soup. And isn't that the point of Valentine's Day?




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