Today we had our first real fall day: when it dawned with blue sky and white clouds there was a distinct chill in the air, a crispness. By 11:30 I was digging cashmere sweaters and long underwear out of my camphor chest. When I went down to the kitchen for lunch, I grabbed the last bowl of vegetable soup from the refrigerator.
Because I have been gone for three days I looked around the counter and into all of the covered pots in the fridge. First I found a pan of meat brownings. Then my eye fell on two large onions from last week’s farm box and a half-loaf of crusty sourdough. The butter plate with a smidge of unsalted butter clinched it: we would have French onion soup for dinner and because I would need to brown the croutons in the oven we would have another Gravenstein apple pie. I’ll roast delicata squash while I’m at it and there is some Swiss chard with our name on it. Dinner will come together in a snap.
I began by peeling and slicing the two large onions as thinly as I could, while I heated a skillet and added a little olive oil and all of the butter I could scrape off the butter plate. After I put them in the pan I cleaned the cutting board, composted the onion scraps and took four large apples from fridge, checking to make sure we still had pie crust. By this time, Mom was back from errands and made tea so I turned off the browning onions and retreated upstairs for a cup of tea. By then it was raining, making me glad to be inside cooking and puttering.
Tea finished, I peeled apples for the pie and cut the squash open. I started scooping seeds into the compost and then realized I could start a vegetable stock with apple peels and squash innards, not to mention the tough ends of Swiss chard, so I covered the seeds and strings from the second squash with some water in a saucepan and set it to simmer with the apple peelings and trimmings.
Classic onion soup uses Gruyere. Gruyere is rare in our house, as is any kind of French or Swiss cheese. What we have is Parmesan, since throwing the lemon Stilton in the tomato tart last week, so I will shave Parmesan onto croutons to top the soup. Browned Parmesan is delicious (sometimes I eat it on buttered whole wheat toast) so I don’t see this as a problem.
French Onion Soup
Put on a skillet to heat over medium heat.
While skillet heats, peel and slice thinly:
2 large onions
Add about 1 Tbsp olive oil to skillet, plus a little butter — maybe 1 tsp
Brown onions slowly over medium heat — if you don’t stir them much they will brown faster.
While onions brown, slice
4 slices of crusty bread and
Slice cheese to taste (I used an ounce or two of Parmesan, but you can use anything you like)
Add 1 tsp thyme to onions
Season with black pepper and salt to taste.
Put browned onions in oven-proof casserole with a broad opening.
De-glaze onion pan with 2 Tbsp of wine and add to onions in casserole.
Add 1 pint chicken stock. If you have brownings from another project, add them too.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place slices of bread on top of onions and broth. Add cheese. Bake until cheese browns.
Serves four, or two very hungry people.
If you want to emulate my style of cooking, consider what else you can bake in a 375-degree oven. In my case, it was apple pie and two delicata squash, which I baked cut side down in a Pyrex pan. When they were done, I flipped them cavity side up, added a dot of butter, a tsp of homemade syrup (brown sugar, honey, water and the dregs from a bottle of maple syrup) and black pepper and let them bake for five more minutes. You could also add ginger jam or chutney to season the squash instead of syrup, or just use brown sugar and butter.
While everything baked, I cleaned and chopped a bunch of Swiss chard, separating the stems from the leaves. Using the onion skillet, I heated about 1 tsp of olive oil and cooked the stems first for a minute or two, then added the shredded leaves, covered and steamed for five minutes in the water that was clinging to the leaves.
After we ate the squash I added the roasted skins to the stock pot — I’ll boil it again tomorrow. Eventually, I’ll reduce it, strain it and freeze it and have it on hand for the first batch of butternut squash soup later in the fall.
Painting Note: For information on “Onion Soup” or any watercolor painting, please go here.