Now I have a thing about soup. Soup is a dish that, at its best, can comfort, sustain and instill a sense of peace and gratitude that no other food can.
The other night I was rushing around, getting ready to teach a class of more than 50 women. I had come straight from the restaurant, having worked late on an event, taken my dad to the doctor twice and to an emergency ultrasound at the hospital once. I was fully prepared to teach the class, but had not had the time to eat all day, and by now it was six o’clock at night, the women would start arriving in 15 minutes. People think if you own a restaurant you eat delicious food all day long, making yourself the perfect little salad, tasting new cupcakes recipes, and generally chatting it up with the customers. Yes, I have days like this, but this day was not one of them.
I was, shall I say, flustered and starving. To death. The class I teach is at the home of my pastor and his wife, and what I love about her is for all of the rushing around, jabbering and generally downloading the outline for the evening to her at breakneck speed, she did something magical and quite impressive. She took a deep mug over to the stove where a pot of soup sat simmering, ladled some into the waiting vessel, crowned the surface with croutons hot out of the oven, and inserted a spoon. All of this while keeping track of what I was saying and looking attentive, and dare I say, enthusiastic.
I stopped talking long enough to inhale the aroma that curled into one smoky tendril and took a bite. It. Was. So. Divine.
“What have you done here?” I swooned. “It’s like French Onion,” she said conspiratorially, “only I made it with chicken stock and sweet onion. The croutons make it. Isn’t it good?” She grinned. She had made a batch a few weeks before and frozen some. I cannot tell you how delicious this was, especially since I was in such a flap and obviously needed the grounding only good soup can bring. I called her early the next day for the recipe. I’ve made it three times since, tinkered with it a bit, and came up with this version. Make a big pot, serve some for dinner, give a little to a friend in need, then freeze the rest for a desperate day. You won’t be sorry. And the class was great, thanks to the grounding power of a mug of love.
Creamy Sweet Onion Soup with Homemade Croutons
8 or 9 sweet onions
1 quart chicken stock
1 stick butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups white wine
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
kosher salt and black pepper
3 cups shredded Swiss cheese, like Emmemthaler
1 loaf crusty bread
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot, set on medium high heat. A good one is a 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven. If you don’t have this most excellent pot, which gets so much use in our house it lives on the stove top, then just use what you have. Peel the onions, halve them, and slice thinly. Start amassing a pile of onions in the pot, stirring up from the bottom as you go. Don’t panic about the amount of onions. I filled the pot half full with the raw slices, and they really do cook down and caramelize beautifully. Season well with salt and pepper. You will cook these, stirring up from the bottom, for about 20-25 minutes. You can reduce the heat to medium low when you start to see some browning.
The onions will look like this….This next set of pictures is from my iPhone, believe it or not. Joe was breading chicken and I wanted to show you each step this time. Sorry if they look a little weird. Joe took the great finished soup shot on the top of the post.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cube up the crusty loaf. Scatter the cubed on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, until the edges are browned and the cubes are toasted. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
Back to the soup! You should still be stirring. When the onions are browned and melted down, add the flour and stir to cook, about three minutes.
Add the wine, stir and cook another three or four minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in the microwave for three minutes or until hot and steaming. Add the stock.
Add the milk to the onions, stock and wine, stirring well. Increase the heat to medium high and keep stirring. Grate the cheese. When the soup is starting to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat to medium low. Add the grated cheese a handful at a time, stirring well, until the cheese is melted and the soup is creamy.
At this point, taste your soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the Dijon and the cayenne. Re-taste and have someone else do the same. When the flavor is perfect, serve in a bowl or mug, topped with croutons. Delish!