November 18, 2011

talley & julia....french onion soup

I'm watching Julie & Julia for the third time, this week. I initially turned it on because after hunting on youtube for the hilarious onion chopping scene - Julia fumigates her husband right out of their apartment with all of the onion gas - and not finding anything besides the generic movie trailer I decided to turn on the movie. The pile of chopped onions was in the pot, on their slow journey to caramelization, and Julia was on the screen, keeping me company. It was a great, sweet, wine-infused, journey.

Enchantè Julia!

A lot of people have asked me if I'm familiar with the movie. It makes sense. I'm an expat, I cook, I blog. But now after seeing it three more times, I wonder if maybe all those people weren't asking simply if I'd seen it, but rather if it meant something else, if perhaps there was a little 'je ne sais quoi' about the movie. And you know what? I think there might be. Not with the Julie bit, (I find her particularly self important, whiny, and annoying), but with the Julia bit. It makes me laugh and it also makes me appreciate living abroad and the time it has given me to learn to cook. As Julia says, "I'm in heaven here." If only I had her collection of copper pots....and spoke French...
Onion soup, like Caesar salad, was one of my first forays into grownup food. I would eat spaghetti with plain tomato sauce at home, but when we went out to eat I'd order onion soup right alongside my parents. The Burns have eaten a lot of onion soup over the years. If it is on the menu we are likely to order four. My dad taught me to love the cheese that burns and gets all crispy on the sides of the pot, but I learned to love the broth soaked bread and the sweet soft onions all on my own. Thankfully Zach is also an onion soup connisseur. We've come to judge restaurants on their onion soup. It seems fair considering that it's a fairly easy soup to make, hard to screw up, so if you do, we are likely to notice.
Besides onions, one of the essential ingredients for onions soup is a set of little oven safe ramekins. The other day when I was window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse (have I mentioned Zurich is insanely expensive?) I came across a little kitchen store that was selling these Staub mini pots for 5.50chf. In Zurich terms that is basically free, so I bought 4. Thank goodness, because I can now make onion soup all the time.
So this isn't Julia Child's recipe, but she does have one, and you can watch and follow her on youtube. I started this soup with the Tartine recipe in front of me and the cream already in the pot, before I turned on the movie and before I was in love with Julia Child.

onion soup, adapted from Tartine
- 6 large yellow onions (I used 3 large onions and 8 - 9 small ones - they are cheaper) cut into slices 1/4 thick
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (Tartine calls for 1 cup, but the onions were cooking too slowly in all that liquid, maybe I'm too impatient)
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 6 cups stock (veggie or chicken, I used veggie - see end of post. Tartine calls for 8, but I like my soup a bit denser)
- sliced and toasted bread for top of soup
- Gruyère cheese sliced for soup.

Combine the butter and cream in the bottom of a 5-8 quart pan/pot. Let it heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and then add the onions. Cook and stir occasionally until the onions have softened and are transparent. This might take a while because there are so many onions. Be patient. Turn on a movie. Once transparent, let the cream and onions cook at a slow boil. Cook the onions, without stirring, until the bottom of the pot begins to brown. Again this could take a while, depending on the size of your pot. Stir the onions with a wooden spoon, adding 1/2 cup of wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, stirring quickly, scraping the bottom of the pan and then leaving the onions to cook until the bottom of the pot browns again, about 6 - 8 minutes. Repeat the process two more times, until the onions take on a deep caramel color. All in all this process took me over an hour, the first part taking me the longest time.

Poor in the stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat, cooking for 15 or so minutes until the broth is well flavored by the onions. Taste and season with salt if needed.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toast the bread, until dry and brittle, about 10 minutes. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil, ladle the soup into your little oven safe pots, top with bread and cheese and bake until the cheese is bubbly and caramelized, 20 - 30 minutes.
This soup is ridiculously good. So good that I sent this email to Zach's work email after I first tasted it....

holy *****
this is the best thing i've ever made
want to bathe in it
you will too

that is word for word, asterisk for asterick, lack of punctuation for lack of punctuation, exactly what I wrote. I guess all of that cheesy goodness impaired my judgement about what is appropriate to send to your husband's work email. whoopsy daisy. But hopefully that will convey to you just how **** good it really is.

. . . the stock. . . As Julia says homemade stock is an essential ingredient for onion soup - why bother making soup from scratch if you aren't going to use homemade stock. I agree.
I recently read An Everlasting Meal, I wonderful book my Tamar Adler, that helped me change the way I approach cooking. Before I read the book I threw away a lot of food; the leafy ends of celery, the ends of onions, the butts of carrots and pretty much any part of a vegetable that I wasn't going to use. Now I throw all of those tails and ends and butts into a pot, cover them with water and let it boil until it's stock. It's pretty much magic. And in Switzerland where you can't buy liquid stock of any kind, it really is a miracle, completely revolutionary.Vegetable stock
- throw whatever ends, tails butts of veggies you have into a pot. If carrots and celery aren't already in the mix then add some, especially the leafy parts and the bulb. Also add an onion, sliced in half, and a head of garlic sliced in half. Sprinkle in some black pepper corns. Poor in water until it covers the veggies and then bring a boil over high heat. Turn down to a simmer and allow to cook until the water has absorbed the vegetable flavors. Taste and season with salt as needed. Strain the veggies and poor liquid into jars and place the jars in the fridge.

The color of the stock will depend on what veggies you use. In the pictures above, in the recipe section, you will notice that the stock is two different colors and that is because it is from two different batches, one had the skin and ends of a butternut squash in it and the other one, well I can't quite remember. Really it's just about feel and whatever scraps you have lying around.

As you can see from the above pictures I saved all the onions ends and skins from the onions that went into this soup and threw them into a pot of stock. I try not to throw any vegetables away at this point. It can always be stock, and you always need stock. Especially with thanksgiving coming up!

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  1. Oh my, yum! I want those Staub pots. I want that soup. I want that vegetable stock. Can I confess? I've never made vegetable stock? I need to do so immediately. Will stop throwing away scraps immediately. Will order Staub pots immediately. Everything on this page looks so ***** good!

  2. Hello from one of your readers in Zurich - I agree, the prices here are crazy. Have you discovered Brocki-land? Near Manneseplatz. You can't always find things that match, but they have a great assortment of all things kitchen. And then some. Your soup looks amazing and I'm also glad for the prompt to make my own stock.

  3. Sorry, Part 2 - more about the Brocki at Manneseplatz - it's actually underground in an old parking garage. It's worth the trip, and a great source for awesome beer glasses, too :-)

  4. oh gosh! this is great for recovery days!!!

  5. Talley, thanks so much for this post. I've always wanted to try to make stock, and now you've inspired me to take the leap! (I guess the law really has made me risk averse....) Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. I'm so glad I've inspired some of you to make veggie stock. It's a really good feeling to throw scraps into a pot and cover them with water and make something out of them. I used a bunch yesterday to make risotto and some more for maple glazed carrots. I think I'll make some more today so I have enough for Thanksgiving stuffing! mmmm

    Susan - my fellow Züricher, thank you so much for commenting. I have been to brocki-land, but only to the little store in search of a film camera. I will go back immediately to peruse their kitchen/furniture collection. Thanks for the tip!

  7. I stumbled upon your blog and after browsing through a few posts I actually started getting hungry. Especially with all the pictures... :-) This soup looks amazing, especially in this cold weather! I'm gonna add it to my menu list...

  8. THANK YOU! I could not agree more about Julie & Julia (which, even not as an ex-pat, I've had several people ask me about or tell me made them think of me). Julia--totally enchanting and endearing and wonderful. Julie? not so much. You said it perfectly.

  9. I made this for a sunday supper. yum. yum yum.