Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Make French Onion Soup...and fresh green bean salad

With temperatures in the nineties, summer is reaching a climax.  This tall Queen Elizabeth rosebush is preparing for autumn with a last spurt of growth, reaching for the clear, blue sky before its petals drop and hips form.  Remember to refrain from fertilising bushes as new, tender growth will increase their vulnerability to frost.

I adore green beans and have planted four successions this season.  Succession planting, that is, sowing every ten to fourteen days ensures a steady supply of fresh produce.  Another advantage is protection against less than ideal conditions, for example, insect infestations happen just some of the time during the growing season so chances increase at least part of the crop will come in nicely.

An easy and delicious way to serve green beams is to make a salad.  Snap the ends off and break into small pieces.  Boil small potatoes for about five minutes, adding the beans for another five minutes or until the veggies are tender.  Slice the peeled potatoes and pat them and the beans dry.  Toss them into a bowl along with a crushed garlic clove, some apple cider vinegar and olive oil, Parmesan shavings, fleur de sel, and freshly ground black pepper.  This salad can be served tepid or chilled.  Use French bread to sop up the dressing--a simple, fast, and delicious supper.

After a month of dry curing onions and garlic under the pergola, I tidied them by shortening their tops and clipping their roots.  About a week later, I trimmed off the rest of the garlic tops, and they are now stored in a cool, dark spot in the sous sol. The onions need more curing before they can be stored.  Just as with garlic, when there is no smell when snipping them close to the bulb, I will know they are ready for storage.

The largest garlic bulbs will be planted this fall for next season's crop

Dayo likes to hang out under the pergola with me because it is much cooler there.  He also helps me as I discard the dry tops of onions and garlic, diligently swatting some as they fall from the table, guiding them into a compost crate. 

French Onion Soup or Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée is a staple in our household throughout the year.  Though proper carmelisation is important, using home-grown onions heightens the taste even further.

(recipe make four servings)
  • Onions, yellow, thinly sliced, 700 grams
  • Garlic, 1 fat clove, crushed
  • sugar, 1 tsp
  • Olive oil, 2 Tbls
  • Butter, 30 grams
  • Beef broth, homemade or the best you can buy, 2 liters
  • Bay leaf, crumbled, 1/8 tsp
  • Thyme, 1/8 tsp
  • French bread, slices, 8
  • Gruyere cheese, grated, 200 grams
  • Additional crushed garlic and olive oil

I find onion soup easier to eat if the onions are not sliced into rings, so I halve them first and then slice.

Bring the olive oil and butter to a bubbling boil in a heavy bottomed pot.  If the pot is broiler safe, then the same pot can be used to complete the dish.

Add onions, garlic, and sugar and over high heat, cook for about 6-10 minutes until most of the onions have browned edges.

Keep heat as low as possible and let carmelize about 30 to 40 minutes.  Fresher onions will take longer than older ones.  Sample them from time to time to get an idea what partially carmelized onions taste like.  When they are fully carmelized, the depth of soft, moist sweetness will knock you over.  It does for me, each and every time.

The onions will have the colour of caramel

Pour in the beef stock, stirring well with a wooden spoon to dissolve all the browned goodness at the bottom of the pot.  Add thyme, bay leaf, salt and freshly ground pepper and simmer, partially covered for an hour.

While the soup is simmering, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut two slices of French bread per serving.  Though this recipe can serve four, I freeze half of the soup for another meal as there are just two of us, making the rest of the croutons at that time. Slices should be not much more than 1/4 inch thick to prevent them from soaking up most of the soup.  On a shallow oven pan lined with oven-proof paper, mix a couple of crushed, large garlic cloves and several tablespoons of olive oil.  Rub both sides of the bread slices in this mix until well coated.

Put the tray in the oven for about 25 minutes, flipping over the slices after 12 minutes.  The slices should be fairly dry and golden brown.  Grate the cheese and divide into two equal piles for each serving.  Preheat broiler to the highest setting. 

Since I halve the recipe, I make about five large croutons to fit into my Corning casserole

Float the slices on the surface of the soup in a broiler-safe casserole and cover them with the cheese, each pile mostly going on top of a slice as some will land in the soup.  Place the casserole about four or five inches under the heating element and broil for about 3-5 minutes.  Carefully bring piping-hot casserole to table and serve in soup plates.

Bon appétit!


Sowing, fertilising, and harvesting onions