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October 12, 2006

Onions (Recipe: French onion soup)

Onion

When you think of a pantry, what comes to mind?

Tins of tuna?

Cans of Spaghetti-O's?

Big boxes of cereal from the big-box store?

For me, pantry means any ingredient used frequently in the creation of other dishes. Beans, pasta, sugar, flour, spices, oil, vinegar, vanilla, mustard and mayo — all belong in a cook's pantry. I stock frozen items, too, like peas and pearl onions, that feature in recipes for stews and soups. And there are the perishables that I use in many of my recipes: lemons, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, yogurt, garlic, and onions.

This notion of fresh foods in the pantry isn't at all far-fetched; the word pantry derives from the Middle English pantrie, from Old French paneterie, from panetier (pantry servant), from panis, which is Latin for bread; originally, the pantry was where bread was stored, and where food prep was done.

Very few savory dishes come out of my kitchen without onions somewhere in the preparation. I can't think of a single cuisine that doesn't use some form of onion as an essential flavoring. Without onions (and shallots, and scallions, and leeks) we'd have no poulet yassa, no basque lamb stew, no Croatian beef in onion sauce, no onion bhajji, no spring onion bread, no pissaladiere.

The National Onion Association has collected lots of onion trivia: eat parsley to get rid of onion breath; Libya has the highest per capita consumption of onions; the Beatles' song "Glass Onion" is on the White Album; there are fewer than 1,000 commercial onion growers in the US.

And there are dozens of suggestions for how to cut onions without crying. Some are ridiculous (chop onions under running water), or just plain frightening (cut onions next to a gas stove with the burners turned on), but the swim goggles thing really works (Pauline proved it, in one of our group cooking sessions!).

Store onions in a cool, dry, ventilated place, not in plastic bags or in the refrigerator. I pile mine in a large wooden bowl, right on the countertop, where they keep company with a few heads of garlic and rarely languish for more than a week or so.   

Soupe a l'oignon, maison (French onion soup)

Homemade French Onion Soup, from Julia herself. The French Chef, episode 97. Serves 6.

Ingredients

A heavy 4-quart saucepan or casserole
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil or cooking oil
About 1-1/2 lbs or 5-6 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp flour
2 quarts hot beef bouillon (you may dilute canned bouillon with 2 cups of water)
1 cup red or white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sage
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Melt the butter with the oil in the saucepan or casserole, add the sliced onions and stir up to coat with the butter. Cover the pan and cook over moderately low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and translucent. Then unover the pan, raise heat to moderately high, and stir in the salt and sugar. (Sugar, by caramelizing, helps onions to brown.) Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions have turned an even deep golden brown.

Then lower heat to moderate, stir in the flour, and add a bit more butter if flour does not absorb into a paste with the onions. Cook slowly, stirring continually, for about 2 minutes to brown the flour lightly. Remove from heat.

Pour in about a cup of the hot bouillon, stirring with a wire whip to blend flour and bouillon. Add the rest of the bouillon and the wine, bay, and sage, and bring to the simmer. Simmer slowly for 30 to 40 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and the soup is done. If you are not serving immediately, let cool uncovered, then cover and refrigerate.

Serve with French bread and grated Parmesan cheese.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

great onion shot! Hmm... I could really go for some onion soup sans the beef bouillon!

Do you know that I only tried onion soup for the first time earlier this year?! I must give your recipe a try!

Max loves onion soup. This would be a good recipe for him to try.

Catherine, thanks! Is there a good vegetable stock recipe that might work with this soup? Maybe something rich with dried mushrooms, to give that "beefy" flavor?

Ivonne, this is Julia Child's classic recipe. It is truly delicious.

Kate, this is really easy to make. You need to have a bit of patience to cook the onions slowly, because the aroma is fantastic and makes you eager to finish the soup!

Mm, I love onion soup. And onions generally. In just about everything. (I even followed a friend's recipe for caramelized onion ice cream, once.)

I once made a very simple dish of spicy noodles with chicken for my little brother, who was 12 at the time. I told him that it was the simplest good entree I knew how to make (then). He complained that it was actually not simple at all, because it had lots of ingredients.

"Well," I explained, "The onions, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper don't count, because they're in everything. So it really only has three ingredients - somen, chicken, and birdseye peppers. Three ingredients make for a simple recipe!"

Thanks, Danielle. I'm not sure about the ice cream.....but the spicy noodles sound great. I love your blog; it's always inspiring. And now that you've got a new tagine, I'm looking forward to sharing recipes!

Lydia, I chuckle at the irony you don't store your onions in your pantry. :-) I do, in my gorgeous never had one before pantry!

http://scrumptious.typepad.com/srbeack/tools_and_equipment/index.html

Any reason you like them better on the countertop?

I also have made Anthony Bourdain's onion soup from the Les Halles. 'tis FANTASTIC too.

Stephanie, I keep my onions where I can see them -- maybe because I don't trust them?? No, because they are beautiful, and because the air circulates around them. Anyway, I define my "pantry" rather loosely: kitchen, freezer, fridge, cellar....!

My father, who was a chef, kept a little office in the pantry, where he pored over recipes and devised his own to try later. He has a high stool, that pulled up to one of the built-in shelves. I do not have a pantry, but I have a high stool, that I can pull up to the counter top.

Hello Lydia from The Land of Enchantment!
Aunt Gene and I read about onions and she printed off the recipe! I'm not eating that today though,because I am full of Tres Colores: three enchiladas: one with red chili and beef, one with tres quesos (yum) and one with chicken and green chili. There is nothing like New Mexican Mexican food!

Mimi, how lucky you are to have a chef in your family, and to have such a wonderful image of your dad. Thank you for sharing that little snapshot of him.

Marcia, I have green chiles in my pantry (yes, a future Perfect Pantry post....), so will you please bring back a recipe or two from The Land of Enchantment?

this is one of my favorite Julia Child recipes. You can still watch this episode on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw0Ij1Fxgq4 she gives a secret for removing onion from your hands by washing them with one teaspoon of salt. The best part is at the end because the cheese was burned...you can see it smoking when she opens the oven door...but this is why we loved her...she was one of us.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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