French onion soup

November 19, 2009

Fr onion soup

Every where I turned last week I ran into French onion soup: commercials, blogs, cookbooks. It almost seemed surreal but certainly not bad.

For me, French onion soup has a retro appeal that’s hard to beat. When made well, it’s a rich, full-flavoured broth that begs tender, sweet onions to bask and linger. Instead of covering it with a heavy, greasy layer of cheese, I prefer to make a Gruyere-topped crostini that you can either float on top of the soup or stand up on one side of the bowl.

Regardless of how you position the cheese and bread, be sure to choose good quality Gruyere cheese. I think it’s much yummier than regular Swiss cheese. Given a choice, I buy Gruyere that has been aged for 10 to 12 months since it has a rich, nutty flavor. Gruyere also has a medium fat content so that complements the flavour of the onions without overwhelming their zesty taste.

French onion soup

3 tbsp (30 mL) butter
2 Spanish or 3 medium cooking onions, peeled
and sliced
2 clove garlic, minced
11/2 tsp (7 mL) dried thyme
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) sherry
1 tsp (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
6 cups (1.5 L) beef broth
6 slices, thick baguette
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Gruyere or other Swiss cheese*
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Melt butter in a Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until onions are translucent and very soft. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are just beginning to brown. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until very brown but not scorched.

Add sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to scrape up any brown bits. Add the broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler to high. Toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet until golden on each side. Sprinkle cheese and parsley (if using) even over the toasts. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden. Ladle an equal amount of soup into each bowl. Top with a cheese crouton and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

* This recipe appeared in Dana’s Top Ten Table.

Easy, economical Lemon Parsnip Soup

February 22, 2008

lemon parsnip soup

The idea for this soup is borrowed from the repertoire of my husband, chef Martin Kouprie, who first made a similar version of this soup at his Toronto restaurant Pangaea.I love it since it is thick and satisfying but cream-free and low-calorie (In other words, it’s just perfect for someone like me who’s returned home from eating, drinking and gambling away her meagre fortune in Las Vegas! — more on that topic another time).

Lemon Parsnip Soup makes an excellent change from the ordinary and is interesting enough to serve to guests. Try a bowl with a rustic bread stick and a chickory-based salad for a homey, healthful, comforting dinner.

Lemon Parsnip Soup*

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) finely grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) pepper
6 cups (1.5L) peeled, chopped parsnips
10 cups (2.5 L) chicken or vegetable broth
1 tbsp (5 mL) lemon juice
Thyme sprigs
Lemon slices

Heat butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, lemon peel, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until parsnips were becoming tender. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, for 20 to 25 minutes or until parsnips are very soft.

Transfer parsnip mixture to a blender or food processor in batches. Puree until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve in soup cups garnished with thyme and lemon. Makes 8 servings.

*Recipe from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favourite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Life-altering Italian soup

February 20, 2008

Guest Blogger Chef Sabrina FaloneItalyCiao tutti! My name is Sabrina Falone and I’m the test kitchen manager for Dana McCauley & Associates Ltd. I recently spoiled myself with a trip to Italy. I chose Italy because that’s where my family is from and I thought it only fitting to learn more about my culture before branching out into more exotic territories. I travelled all over the Central and Northern regions of Italy with a girlfriend and 40 other tourists for two weeks. I had a great time, but two weeks is not nearly enough time to truly appreciate Italy. It was ‘only a taste,’ our tour guide informed us at the beginning of the journey.The scenery was amazing and I met fantastic people. Both the art and architecture were literally breath-taking. (The Sistine Chapel can only be appreciated in person, so I won’t even try to express what it is like in words.)You must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the food yet. Are you thinking it’s because I’m saving the best for last? No, regrettably the food was actually very, very disappointing. Granted, it was the part of my trip I had the highest expectations for but I never dreamed I would come home with so few pleasurable flavour experiences.Let me explain before you think I’m just being a stereotypical cheffy snob. I did have some great food. The two gelatos a day I ate were always delicious; the pizza was always good, regardless of the type of crust or toppings. And I never had a bad cup of coffee, and the wine was some of the best I’ve had. I made a deal with myself before the trip: I would eat anything and everything I wanted while in Italy and deal with the repercussions when I got back; hence the two helpings of gelato each day. (It was in the name of research!)I did, however, endure grey mystery meat, tasteless tomato sauce, over-cooked pork and countless plates of disappointing pasta. I did, however, have a bowl of life-alerting soup. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating but it was damn good!It was served in the least likely of places. A very small, hideously decorated trattoria, tucked away on a sketchy side street in Venice that we chose simply because it was there and we were cold and hungry.The proprietress suggested a bowl of bean soup (zuppa di fagioli) that she said was very good. Keeping to my quest for good food, I took her at her word. The soup wasn’t much to look at. There was no thoughtful presentation, the bowls were far from designer and, truthfully, the colour was a bit concerning. But the aroma made up for these lackings; the delicious aroma would have been enough to knock us over if we’d been standing.Without saying a word, we picked up our spoons and dove in. We were, by this point, all so disappointed by the food in Italy that we didn’t trust our first impressions. After a second taste, it was unanimous — the soup was delicious!Creamy, hearty and earthy. The tender, slow-cooked beans floated in a pureed fine-quality chicken broth with deep herbal notes. You just knew this was a recipe that had been in the maker’s family for generations. I wanted so badly to quiz her about the flavours and techniques but between her broken English and my limited Italian there wasn’t much opportunity to swap recipes.It’s been three months since I returned home from Italy and I can still taste that soup in my flavour memory. Unfortunately, my several attempts haven’t been able to duplicate that wonderful soup. That said, I’m confident that I will eventually crack the recipe and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.[Dana’s note: Take heart, Sabrina! You’ll get this recipe dilemma solved. Just look at Luisa at Wednesday Chef. She finally solved her foccacia puzzle.]

Slimming, satisfying soup

February 19, 2008

Guest Blogger Amy Snider, PHEc.

Soup ingredients

I often crave soup during the chilly winter months. Luckily, eating soup more often can combat another winter reality — the weight gain that often is the result of being cooped up indoors. Most soups (except for those prepared with full-fat cream or loads of cheese) provide a satisfying meal with minimal calories and fat. No wonder the cabbage soup diet is still on many people’s radar!

Here are a several reasons why soups are a great part of a winter diet:

1. Broths are generally fat-free; even when loaded up with vegetables and lean meats, they provide a low-calorie and nutritious meal.

2. A hot piping bowl of soup has to be eaten slowly, by the spoonful, making you feel more satisfied and less likely to over-indulge.

3. Soups are economical and convenient. I always keep some ready-to-heat (preferably lower sodium and vegetable-rich) canned soups in my pantry to pack for lunch or for an easy supper. Just a few minutes in the microwave and they’re ready to slurp.

Soup is easy to make, too. It’s a great way to use leftovers and the flavour combinations are endless. Here’s one of my favourite soups, a thick, nourishing and fibre-rich bean soup adapted from my cookbook Fiber Boost, Everyday Cooking for a Long, Healthy Life (Key Porter, 2004).

Bistro White Bean Soup

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
4 oz (125 g) bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cans (540 mL each) white kidney beans (or navy beans), drained and rinsed
4 cups (1 L) chicken broth
4 cups (1 L) baby spinach
Croutons and Shaved Parmesan Cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan set over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned and slightly crisp. Stir in onion, carrots, garlic thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add the beans and chicken broth, bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to crush some of the beans to thicken the soup. Stir in the spinach and cook just until wilted. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.