Food to me is medicinal. And in our modern world, we take medicine for both mind and body. A book of soup recipes is like the pharmacy aisle in a supermarket. You have everything you need right there to cure what ails you.
Do you remember Chicken Soup for the Soul? I never understand that title. Chicken soup is something you take when your nose is stuffy, like soup Sudafed. It's proven to work, but it's certainly not a hot water bottle for the aching soul. No, when your soul aches, when someone else gets the promotion, when you place the losing bid on that beautiful apartment, is what you crave vegetables and white meat chicken? I don't think so.
French onion soup is my favorite prescription for mild depression and aching souls. Winter is not just flu season, it's also I'm-so-depressed-when-will-I-see-the-sun-again season. Onion soup is a crock of beef stock, earthy, ancient, homey. And yet, it is sweet and light and delicious. In my family, we always eat soup with bread and cheese on the side. This cuts the middleman: the bread and cheese are on the soup. The bread floats like a little raft, preserving the bubbling cheese from the molten sea of soup below. And the cheese oozes and droops, and as you pull it back with your spoon, you reveal a hot tub of healing, a pot of sippable Prozac, and life becomes generally satisfying and uplifting. French onion soup is the hearth. It is the home. It cannot help but make you happy.
French onion soup, down to its bare bones, is generally made from butter and onions, beef stock, bread, and Gruyère cheese. But, the French way of cooking is to take what is local and seasonal and around you, and create from that canvas. Here in America, we have beautiful sweet onions that come from the South. And we've all heard of Wisconsin cheddar. I thought it would be fantastic to take the absolutely perfect formula of French onion soup, and add our American ingredients to it. So here it is, a sweet American onion soup, make with Vidalias or other southern sweet onions, cognac, beef and chicken stocks, fresh thyme, which goes so well with onions and cheddar, and beautiful, singed white cheddar. As I said, onion soup is home, and it's good to know you already have everything you need right here. Bon app!
8 ¼-inch slices baguette
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, cut ¼ to ⅓ inch thick
2 sweet onions, cut ¼ to ⅓ inch thick
¼ cup cognac
6 stems fresh thyme, whole
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, preferably organic
2 cups beef stock, preferably organic
8 slices white cheddar
Fine sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray both sides of each slice of baguette with olive oil mist or cooking spray. Place on a baking sheet and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until golden and crisp. Remove the toasts from the oven, and preheat the broiler.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté on medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring often, until soft and barely taking on color. Add the cognac, and reduce until nearly completely evaporated. Add the stocks and the thyme leaves, and raise the heat to high. Cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the thyme stems.
Ladle the soup into 4 oven-safe bowls. Float 2 baguette slices on the soup, and cover with 2 slices cheddar cheese, allowing some corners to hang over the sides of the bowl, and cutting the cheese to fit. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling and turning golden brown. Serve immediately.
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