My son was taunting me: “can you make a French onion soup as good as Panera’s (a chain of bakeries in Dallas)? as the French say mon sang n’a fait qu’un tour. I will make a French onion soup that will knock your socks off, said I. There! I, who had French onion soup at a bar in the Hamra district in Beirut at 16, and countless others in Paris later? who, like so many Lebanese, at one time considered France to be home away from home? (France was present in our Lebanese psyche for 300 years at least, since we started trading silk with the Lyon manufacturers, and on and on)…
I got the biggest beef bones I could find and a bag of yellow onions; I checked to make sure I had a bottle of white wine. I set to work, giving myself two or three days to complete the task at hand.
Today in Dallas the temperature dipped to 23F and schools closed and people stayed home. This is usually the only day of winter we will experience this year. I invited my neighbor and she swooned. Je suis satisfaite.
French onion soup
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
4 pounds beef bones
3 pounds yellow onions
1 1/2 cup dry white wine to taste
1 large round French bread or sourdough or several smaller ones
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese or Comté or similar cheese of your liking
4 tbsp whipping cream
1 tsp salt to taste
Seasonings to the beef broth
2 sprigs thyme
6 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
6 berries allspice
1/2 cup flour or cornstarch
4 tbsp butter
1. Brown the bones in a moderate oven (300-325) till they release their fat and get crispy, about 45 minutes Remove the bones and place them in a dutch oven; cover with cold water. Add seasonings to the pot: 2 bay leaves, a carrot, several allspice berries, a tablespoon of peppercorns, 3 garlic cloves, a sprig of parsley, a pinch of thyme. Let the pot with the bones simmer for 2 hours either on the stove or in a slow oven (275-300F)
2. Peel 3 large onions, cut in half and place half side down on half cookie sheet in the oven to brown. When the onions are a deep brown color, add them to the soup pot. When the soup pot has simmered sufficiently with the onions and spices (at least 2 hours) set aside to cool, remove the bones and extract the marrow (for a side treat) and put it in a small plate. Remove the bay leaves and carrot. Mash the onions with a spoon or a blender. Place the soup pot containing the onions in the fridge overnight.
3. The next day, skim the congealed fat from the pot and discard or keep for use later in the freezer. Chop 2 or 3 large onions and fry them gently in 2 tablespoons or butter or olive oil (or a mixture of both), in a skillet until the onions brown and stir them every 5 minutes to make sure they don't burn. You can add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the onions to help with the browning process. Add 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour to the onions and cook the mixture for 3 minutes more to cook the flour.
4. Dump the onions and flour into the soup pot with the addition of a cup of white wine and an extra cup of cold water. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for about 45 minutes very gently. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper at that stage. Butter as many slices of bread as the number of guests and place the bread on a piece of foil on a cookie sheet in the oven set to broil. On each slice of bread place a generous quantity of shredded Swiss cheese . On top of the cheese, add 1 tablespoon of whipping cream. Watch carefully and broil the cheese for 2 minutes or so.
5. Serve the soup by ladling in each bowl and adding on top a slice of bread covered with melted cheese. Another option is to carve a round small bread and use it as a container for the soup, keeping in mind that the bread will absorb the liquid in a matter of minutes! Enjoy with a glass of the same bottle that was used in the soup.
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