Onion soup without tears

When there is a new president, it is important to host a luncheon.

Even if it's only you, and your fiancé, and his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend who can attend. And even if you're cooking frantically, on a break from writing at your office across the street, just as the speech begins. Even if you've broken into his other cousin's kitchen to cook without consent; it doesn't matter the circumstance.

There is a new president, and so there ought to be a new recipe for lunch.

Also, it helps to use a new book. We're starting over, you see. From my Christmas pile, I picked Nigel Slater's latest cookbook to start the new term with. It's a kitchen diary, sort of like this one, except he wrote down everything he cooked, every meal, every day, for a year. The photographs are spectacular, and the text enchanting. The only trouble is, the seasons are a bit adrift. For instance, he starts the year like this:

January 8
The first rhubarb

Clearly, he lives in a much friendlier place. Around here, the first rhubarb appears in oh—say, April, probably May. Fat chance of digging any up today. Luckily, his January 11th entry offered something a little more realistic: namely, French onion soup.

I adore French onion soup. It is the absolute perfect evening winter meal: simple, warm, and just substantial enough to get you through the night. It can be made vegetarian, or carnivorous, and it is salty as the sea. Also, at the same time, it is sweet.

Slater's version is simple. It starts with roasting the onions with butter and salt and pepper in the oven, so that the whole experience is pleasantly tear-free. It then requires you to burn off a little white wine, simmer some vegetable stock, and keep the pot of soup warm while toast and Gruyére melt beneath the broiler. It's so easy that all of this can easily be accomplished, even while you are watching a speech on t.v.

I made a few changes—swapping vegetable stock for beef, and Shy Brother's cheese for Gruyére—but mainly, I stuck with his pot. I feel quite sure we'll be making it again.


adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

5 medium onions
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces (one glass) white wine
6 cups beef or vegetable stock
a loaf of crusty French-style bread
several ounces good melting cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the onions and cut them in half from tip to root, then lay them in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast about 30 minutes, or until they are golden and tender. You may want to check on them a few times to see if they need turning.

Put the pot, with the onions, on the stove. Add the wine, and reduce it until the liquid nearly disappears. (As Slater explains, this is because you want the flavor, not the alcohol.) Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes.

Just before you're ready to eat, put several slices of French bread beneath the broiler, or in the toaster oven (one slice per bowl of soup). Toast one side, then flip them and toast the other, layering several slices of cheese on top. When the cheese is bubbling and hot, ladle the soup into bowls and rest the cheese toasts on top. Serve immediately, with a spoon and a knife.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.