Hunter Halgrimson: Fond thoughts for onion soupOne of the most memorable bowls of onion soup I’ve ever eaten was made by British novelist Paul Bailey, a visiting lecturer in English literature at North Dakota State University between 1977 and 1979.
By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM
One of the most memorable bowls of onion soup I’ve ever eaten was made by British novelist Paul Bailey, a visiting lecturer in English literature at North Dakota State University between 1977 and 1979.
During part of his time in Fargo, Paul stayed at the home of John and Sylvia Hove. John was head of the English department at NDSU at the time.
My parents and I were invited to dinner there one night, and Paul prepared onion soup for our meal.
Paul was a friend of English cookery writer, Elizabeth David who did for the British cooking what Julia Child did for American cooking.
The onion soup Paul made was not like the onion soup I made and all of these years later, it occurred to me that it was probably from one of Elizabeth David’s many cookbooks. Since I have most of them, I checked it out.
David’s opinion of French Onion Soup stated in her “French Provincial Cooking,” was not high. She wrote that, “with sodden bread, strings of cheese and half-cooked onion floating about in it, seems to me a good deal overrated, and rather indigestible.”
This is, of course, not the case if it is cooked using the recipe from the first volume of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
Try them both. It’s the time of year for a steaming and aromatic bowl of soup.
The following is quoted verbatim so readers have an idea of David’s style of writing recipes.
From “French Country Cooking,” by Elizabeth David:
Soupe au Lard et au Fromage
Cut 1/4 lb. of fat bacon in small pieces and melt it gently in a saucepan; when the pieces have yielded enough fat, and before they are overdone, take them out, keep them aside, and into the fat put 6 small onions cut into thin rounds. Cook them very gently until they are almost reduced to a purée; at this moment season the onions and add about 1 1/2 pints of water and leave it to simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, get ready a number of thin slices of stale bread. Put a layer of these into a deep earthenware casserole or other pan which will go in the oven. Cover the bread with a layer of grated Parmesan cheese, then a tablespoon of fresh cream and some of the bacon; then another layer of bread, cheese, cream and bacon, and so on until the casserole is half full.
Now pour the onions and their stock in the pan and put into the oven for 5 minutes to heat up.
(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle)
1 1/2 pounds (5 cups) yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
Pinch of sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock (recipe follows) or canned beef bouillon
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy
1 French baguette, cut in thick rounds
1 clove garlic for rubbing toast
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Cook onions slowly in butter and oil, covered, in a heavy pot for 15 minutes. Uncover, add salt and sugar, raise heat to moderate and cook 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions have turned a deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for a few minutes. Remove from heat.
Bring stock to a boil and blend into onions. Add wine, season to taste, and simmer partially covered 30 to 40 minutes, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. If not eating immediately, return to a simmer before serving and add cognac or brandy.
Bake bread rounds on a baking sheet in a 325 degree oven about 30 minutes, until hard and lightly browned, brushing them with olive oil after 15 minutes, then turning and brushing the other side. When bread is toasted, rub each piece with a cut piece of the garlic. Spread one side of each piece with the grated cheese, dribble on a little olive oil and brown under the broiler. Add the hot bread rounds to the hot soup just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.
Readers can reach Forum Food Columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at firstname.lastname@example.org