2010 has not been so hot,
we brought in the new year
with a dinner, that i've said,
was ok, i guess.
and then the next night,
after i spent hours saying,
i was going to make fresh pasta,
but instead watched a lot
of law and order: svu,
i boiled up a pot of dried spaghetti
and tossed it with sage and grated parm.
that was followed by huevos rancheros
that may have been ok,
if i didn't somehow overcook the eggs,
chickpea patties that were like
bland hockey pucks,
potatoes that i
smashed with the bottom
of a glass (on purpose)
and then kind of
burnt to a crisp (not on purpose),
a pasta, cauliflower and horseradish
dish that needed lots of hot sauce
to enjoy and a salad dressing that was
way too garlicky for the
perfectly good salad i carefully assembled.
when dinner goes wrong,
it's a bummer. but when dishes
are unsuccessful several days in
a row, you start to doubt yourself,
and seriously consider turning to
meals made outside the home.
but then, you find a recipe.
one recipe, that miraculously
goes according to plan,
doesn't surprise you along the way
and in the end, is exactly what
you were hoping for
and maybe, even more.
for our wedding anniversary,
larry put the
into brooke terms
and gave me a cookbook.
by alice waters, to be precise.
the thing is, i'm not that simple.
i can taste the difference
between an unbelievable tomato
and a good tomato.
and i can appreciate the brilliance
of someone taking that
amazing tomato and drizzling
it only with a few drops of olive oil
and a couple sprinklings of
really good salt.
but most likely - and maybe, sadly -
in my hands, it wouldn't stay that way.
i like what comes of mixing together
spices and herbs and vinegars.
and i like what happens when something
is sauteed or roasted or combined
with something a little wacky.
so, i glanced through the book
and saw, what i consider,
good basics. there was a list
of pantry essentials,
recipes for fruit salad and
different methods for preparing
rice, a garlic and olive oil sauce
and cheese omelets.
and yes, i know this is alice waters.
and i know and love a lot of what
she has done, what she is still on
a mission to do. i just like a little
but, for some reason,
page 262 stopped me. i had never
heard of a panade before - which,
now after conducting a ton of research,
seems ridiculous. but here, it was,
a panade, featuring very simply:
simple. and sounding pretty much
like the ingredients for french onion soup.
i loved the idea of a panade:
you prepare all the ingredients
(saute the onions,
slice and toast the bread,
grate in the cheese),
and then you layer them all
together in a casserole dish
and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
when it's pulled from the oven,
it should be intensly flavored soup.
and to my delight - on another absolutely
frigid winter night - it was. after baking
for 45 minutes, i pulled the foil off and
cooked until the top was brown and bubbly.
when i first opened the oven,
i couldn't believe how much it all smelled
like bread pudding, or how beautifully
the top had puffed up. but, of course, unlike
bread pudding, this is an eggless recipe
and the soup deflated fast.
when i scooped into it,
the bread pudding wafts were a distant memory,
instead replaced clearly by
the scents of a very rich onion soup.
even the chicken broth - maybe not so optimal
for those of you who swear by beef broth to make
the heartiest, boldest variation - transformed
thanks to those golden onions
and thin layers of cheese,
that have been jumbled together, first in the oven,
and then in your bowl.
once scooped into individual dishes,
it's not gorgeous, but who needs gorgeous
when you've got delicious?
and yes, delicious is not a very
imaginitive word. but it's simple and fitting,
and maybe, sometimes, that's not so bad.
adapted from the art of simple food
this is the perfect sunday night soup - it does not require a lot of attention, especially once the onions are out of the pan, but it does take time that you may not have on a weeknight.
i used a 2-quart dish instead of the 1 1/2 quart casserole indicated, so i upped the ingredient amounts just a bit - i've listed my changes below. i also realized later that i was meant to heat the chicken broth before adding it to dish - i didn't and i don't think the soup suffered (but, apparently, i am not doing so well in the basic reading department lately). also, when making this, i used my method of caramelizing onions, instead of the one in the book. it took about an hour (instead of the 45 minutes waters called for).
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 or 3 thyme sprigs (or 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/2 day-old italian or country-style loaf
1/2 cup grated parm
3/4 cup grated gruyere (i used aged)
3-5 cups chicken or beef broth (i used chicken)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
in large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. when hot, add onions and thyme; cook 5 minutes, stirring often. reduce heat to medium low and cook 30-35 minutes, or until very soft. increase heat to medium and cook 15-20 minutes, or until onions are a medium golden brown, stirring often.
meanwhile, heat oven to 350˚f. thinly slice bread; place slices on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes, turning once, or until dry, but not brown.
in bowl, mix together grated parm and grated gruyere.
in 2-quart baking dish, place single layer of bread (the recipe did not indicate, but i did cut bread to make sure the bottom was completely covered). top bread with half the onions, spreading evenly; sprinkle with half the cheese mixture. top with second layer of bread, remaining onions and another third of cheese. top with remaining bread and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
place baking dish on baking pan. carefully pour broth down the side into the dish, taking care not to disrupt the layers, until the top layer of bread begins to float. dot with butter.
cover; carefully transfer baking pan to oven. bake 45 minutes. uncover dish and bake 20-30 minutes more, or until the top layer is golden brown and crisp. (after 30 minutes, i put the broiler on for a couple more, just until the top had a few golden spots.)