Happy Leap Year!
Finally. I mean, if this were a normal year, today would be March. And this is really the first snow storm we have had in Boston.
Ok, there was that one in October. On my wedding. But that was last year.
Same season, different year. No snow. What is going on New England?
Anyhow, my husband Artie loves snow.
This is him in heaven.
Unlike most inhabitants of planet earth, when it is cold, and dark, and everything feels dead, he is happy as as a clam.
Or a Lab.
I think happy as a Labrador Retriever is a more fitting description, considering his intense love and admiration for their unshakable optimism, fun-loving spirit, and extremely weather-proof coats.
My point is, the man loves him some snow.
So to mark the first official snow of each year, Artie and I go across the street to The Independent to celebrate, with Guinness and French onion soup.
Until today, we thought this year’s celebration might be postponed indefinitely.
I am a pretty big fan of the Indo’s cocktails, and their food has improved markedly over the past 4 years, since we moved to Union Square.
But my French onion soup still beats the pants off theirs.
The key to great French onion soup is browning the heck out of your onions, without burning them.
A heavy bottomed pot is essential for this.
And use really good chicken stock.
I realize that most people don’t make their own chicken stock, but if you occasionally do, and you have some in your freezer you are saving for a special occasion, this is the time to use it.
I save up roasted chicken carcasses in the freezer for stock (that sounds terrible, but it’s a really good idea)
If I don’t have any, I just ask the guys at the meat counter for a few pounds of chicken backs and necks – they are super cheap.
Throw them in a slow-cooker with some carrots, celery, onion or leek, and parnsips. Fresh parsley, thyme, and some black peppercorns. Cover it with water, and add a pinch of salt.
Cook it on high for 7 hours or so….and voila! Perfect chicken stock, and you aren’t stuck inside, chained to the stove.
Toss it in ice cube trays, and when they are frozen, pop them into Ziplock bags and grab what you need for soups, sauces, etc.
It’ll change your life. Or at least your soup. For the better.
I learned to make French onion soup in Culinary school, from J.J, a wonderful, sweet but stern, old-school French culinary instructor. He knows his stuff and I think of him every time I make this soup, which is often, in the chilly winter months.
He bakes his instead of broils it, which allows the flavors to concentrate and the croutons to soak up the delicious broth.
I’ve also found it to be less likely to set off your smoke detector.
You can switch the white wine for sherry, and add shallots, leeks or scallions to the mix, if you like. If you have an allium of any sorts in your fridge, toss it in.
Just remember to really brown those onions.
And top it with good toasted baguette and lot’s of gooey cheese.
Happy snow day everyone!
Here’s the recipe…
Adapted from Jean-Jacques Paimblanc
Soupe a L’Oignon Gratinee (Baked Onion Soup)
3 cups sliced onion
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken or beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 baguette sliced into 1/2 inch rounds and toasted in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes.
8 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Gruyere or Comte cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat and cook the onions until dark brown. This will take a good 20 minutes, and is essential to a richly flavored soup.
2. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook another 2 minutes.
3. Whisk in the wine and stock, and add the bay leaf.
4. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
FINISHING THE SOUP
1. Set the oven at 450 degrees
2. Transfer the soup to an oven-proof casserole large enough to fit the soup
3. Top with the toasted baguette rounds and cover with cheese.
4. Place the casserole on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes until browned and bubbling.