A few years back I took some pottery classes at Springfield Pottery. Over the course of a year or two my work went from looking like something a first grader would bring home on Mother’s Day (my mom actually did receive some of that) to consisting of things I actually wanted to keep and use and tell people I made.
Nathan and Jennifer Falter, aside from being two of the most talented artists I’ve ever met in real life, were (and are) incredibly patient and fun teachers. Nathan always made me laugh because it seemed no matter what I made, he always visualized food in it. As I finished up one particular piece, he said, “that is definitely a French Onion Soup bowl.” Up until now, I’d never put it to the test but it turns out he was absolutely right. It WAS the perfect vessel for French Onion Soup.
The first time I ever made French Onion Soup it was a complete disaster. Canned soup with untoasted wheat bread and shredded cheese turned into a yucky gloppy mess. It was a long time before I tried again. Since then, I’ve had a lot more success. Good bread, good cheese, and good soup all turned out to be key components. Who knew?
As far as celebrity chefs go, Jamie Oliver is one of my favorites. I love his simple recipes, which are always focused on really bringing out the flavor of good ingredients. He also measures ingredients like I do, which never fails to crack me up. I checked out one of his cookbooks from the library to drool over until I decide to splurge and buy one for myself. One of these days. In it I found what would turn out to be both the simplest – and the best! – French Onion Soup recipe I’ve ever tried. The trick is to cook the onions slowly, which really brings out the natural sweetness. Be patient, and you’ll be very happy with the results.
The Ultimate French Onion Soup
(from Jamie’s Dinners, by Jamie Oliver)
2 1/2 pounds of onions, peeled and sliced (I used 6 large Mayan sweet onions)
A handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked
6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
“A good drizzle” of olive oil (1 used 2-3 tablespoons)
“A good knob of butter” (haha, I used about 2 tbsp.)
6-8 cups of stock or broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1 baguette or other good crusty french bread
4 oz. Gruyere cheese
In a large non-stick soup pan, slowly cook all the onions with the thyme, garlic and bay leaf in butter and olive oil. Place a lid on the pan and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes, without coloring, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. The slower you can cook them, the better. Then remove the lid, turn up the heat and color the onions until they are golden, stirring often. This will encourage sweetness and a real depth of flavor. As they start to stick, you can deglaze the pan with a little of the broth a couple of times. Onions should end up very soft and caramel in color. Add the stock, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, slice your bread or tear into chunks and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5 minutes or so just to toast up a little. This is an extra step you can skip if you want but I like my bread to have a little crunchy bite so I do it. Ladle soup into bowls (preferably ceramic or earthenware). Put the bread on top of the soup and top with shredded cheese. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and put under the broiler or bake at medium heat for just a few minutes until the cheese is melted.