I decided to caramelize 5lbs of onions yesterday to use over the course of this week. They are such a versatile ingredient and they take even a basic meal to a whole new level, making them great to have on hand.
To caramelize the onions, I chop them in half-moon slivers and while many people like to cut their onions very thinly before caramelizing, I don't. I like to cut them about 1/4" thick. Melt 6 TBS of butter in a heavy bottomed pot (cast iron is best) and then add all your onions. Stir to coat the onions with the butter. If the butter doesn't coat all your onions you can drizzle a little olive oil on them. I then sprinkle some salt over the onions to help them release their sugars while they begin to cook. I then cover the pot and cook over very low heat to allow the onions to sweat for a bit. I sweat the onions for 20 minutes and then take the cover off. At this point I stir the onions, scraping up the brown fond on the bottom of the pan. At this point you will need to watch your onions to make sure there is enough heat to caramelize the onions but not too much causing them to burn. You will want to continue to scrap up the bottom of the pan and distribute the flavor throughout the onions. Cook the onions until they are a rich brown color and smell heavenly.
With this huge batch of onions, I have a ton of options open to me for dinners over the week. As the leaves and the weather start to turn, I find myself craving soups and warm sandwiches. First up must be Soupe a L'Oignon. While this soup will be a huge hit for my husband and I, my 8 and 9 year old kids will not be thrilled with it. Since Soupe a l'Oignon requires crusty french bread and gryere cheese, I am going to stretch the ingredients to make croque monsieurs for the big kids and a simple grilled cheese for the baby. The big kids will have a no-thank-you helping portion of the soup.
SOUPE A L'OIGNON
2.5 lbs caramelized onions (I just used about half of what I made from the 5lb bag)
7 cups beef stock (I prefer low sodium)
1 cup of a dry white wine
1 TBS dijon mustard
Packet of thyme and a fresh bay leaf
2 TBS Brandy (optional)
With the onions already done, the soup will only take 20 minutes or so to make. Add all the liquid to your pot, whisk in the mustard, tossed in the herbs and bring it to a boil. Then add your onions and reduced it to a simmer. Let it cook for 10 minutes at which point, you should taste it to know if it needs salt. The beef broth is the biggest variable when it comes to the salt in the soup so I would advise letting the flavors marry a bit, taste it and then add salt if you need to. Whether you've made your own, use a concentrate, or buy it in a box or a can, they are all going to have different amounts of salt. I buy low sodium concentrate so I can control the salt. Occasionally when I have the time, I make my own stock. Add some fresh ground pepper to taste at this point. Let the soup simmer 5-10 more minutes or until you think the flavor is right.
Now about that Brandy. You should add the brandy at the end but if you are cooking for kids as well as adults, you may want to skip the brandy. What I like to do is add a few drops of brandy to the adult's bowls before I ladle in the soup. This way, we get the flavor and the kids don't get the alcohol.
While your soup is simmering, cut 1/2" thick slices of crusty bread and then use either a large round cookie cutter or your serving bowl to cut out a round shape of bread that will fit into your bowl. I like to give my bread a quick toast so it doesn't get soggy too fast.
Once the soup is done, ladle it into your bowls, gently place your bread on top of the soup, add a mound of grated gryuere cheese and put under the broiler to melt. You will want to be using oven save bowls for this and have them on a baking sheet so you can turn them around in the oven to help them cook evenly.
These are super simple! (recipe for 3 or 4 sandwiches)
6-8 slices of crusty bread
3-4 slices of ham
thin slices of gruyere cheese - enough for each sandwich
Mornay sauce* recipe below
Grated gruyere cheese for the top
Start by toasting your bread under the broiler. While you may be tempted to just stick them in your toaster, you really want them toasted on only one side. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Once toasted, place ham, and a layer of sliced gruyere cheese on a non-toasted side of 3-4 of the slices. Cover the sandwiches with the other half of bread, toasted side up.
Now to make the Mornay Sauce.
I am pretty sure traditional Mornay sauce uses a gruyere or other kind of swiss cheese. Since the CM has so much gruyere in it already, I use parmesan in my sauce.
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 grates of fresh nutmeg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground pepper
Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat, add flour and whisk until it turns light brown, and thickens to look a bit like wet sand. This is a roux. Then add milk and whisk over higher heat until it thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and stir in your cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Assemble your sandwiches
Spoon the mornay sauce onto the tops of your sandwiches. Don't drench them. But just cover the tops. Then add grated gryuere cheese, slide under broiler and let the cheese melt all over the sandwich.
For dinner the kids had Croque Monsieur sandwiches with a small no thank you helping of the soup. SweetPea ate most of her soup claiming it reminded her of her time at French Camp this past summer. Buddy, needed some, let's say, encouragement, to eat even a few bites of his. But he did. My husband and I had a nice big bowl of the soup with a arugula, endive salad with walnuts and a sherry and shallot vinaigrette.
** word to the wise- Soupe a l'Oignon is even better the next day so this is a fantastic make ahead meal.
At the end of the meal SweetPea said she missed Paris. That this meal reminded her of being there. I am so glad food can trigger such good memories for her as it certainly does for me. Ahhh, Paris.