Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's Raining French Onion Soup

It is June 25, 2013. It rained at my house today. For those readers east of the Mississippi River, that revelation may not seem too surprising. You are used to hot, humid and wet summers. We Californians are not.

I remember visiting my Aunt Ginny in Louisville, Kentucky in 1967 (and yes, I know how pronounce that fine city's name correctly and have fond memories of my Kentucky uncle - see my blog post about Black Eyed Peas). It was mid-June, it was hot and humid and it rained one day, and continued to rain, and it rained so much that the street outside Aunt Ginny's home filled with enough water that it was like a wading pool. My brother, sister and I ran outside in our day clothes, into the pooling water with our mouths open to catch the falling drops. We kicked up enough water that we almost drowned 4 year old Laura, but she was laughing too hard to notice. If we had seen the film, we would surely have been imitating Gene Kelley in "Singing in the Rain", so happy were we to be playing in the rain on a hot summer day.

Aunt Ginny stood on her front porch, with my mother, in astonishment. "Haven't they ever seen rain?", she asked. "Not in June when it's 90 degrees", was Mom's reply. It does not rain in California in the summer.

I have one other memorable summertime rain experience. I worked at Knotts' Berry Farm, the Buena Park amusement park, during the summers while I was in college. (It is vastly different from when I worked there 30+ years ago, but I will not dwell on that.) It rained on August 16, 1977 - a really unusual weather pattern for Southern California - and the park closed due to that rain. I did not have to report to work that day.

Now, I have no way of knowing if these two events are linked, and I'm not going to start any conspiracy theories, but it rained in Southern California on August 16, 1977 and Elvis Presley died that same day.

My best friend Pam was a huge Elvis fan and as a way to help her mourn, I suggested we go for a rain walk. We were goofy enough as 19 year olds that a lack of umbrellas, put away until winter, was no obstacle.  We  jumped and splashed  in our day clothes through the water that pooled on the streets of our suburban neighborhood, not a care in the world, temporarily forgetting the death of an American icon. I was my 9 year old self in St. Matthews, Kentucky once again!

The rain today has not been enough to flood our neighborhood street. It's not cold enough for pot roast and mashed potatoes - the temps are quite sultry and almost tropical so I'm imagining myself in Hawaii.  But I guess there is enough foul weather that my younger son has asked for French Onion Soup for dinner. Thanks to the well stocked pantry, I have all the ingredients on hand. We may not run out into the street, delighting in the rain, but we have dinner.

Photo by  Steve Hunter, Fine Cooking Magazine


French Onion Soup

 Serves 6


    • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
    • 6 large yellow onions (about 3-1/4 lb. total), sliced about 1/8 inch thick
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup dry white wine (not oaky), such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
    • 8 cups homemade chicken or beef broth, or low-salt canned chicken broth
    • 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together with kitchen twine
    • 1 baguette, cut into as many 3/8-inch slices as needed to cover six soup crocks
    • 1 to 1/2 cups (about 6 oz.) grated Gruyère cheese


    1. In a large, wide soup pot (at least 4-1/2 qt.), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and season lightly with salt and pepper. (It might seem like you have far too many onions, but they'll cook down to about one-quarter of their original volume.) Cook the onions gently, stirring frequently, until they're very soft and have begun to turn a dark straw color, 35 to 45 min.
    2. When the onions are ready, stir in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 min., stirring frequently. Pour in the wine and increase the heat to medium high, stirring and scraping to loosen any caramelized juices, until the liquid is mostly reduced, 5 to 8 min. Add the broth, toss in the tied herbs, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for 20 to 30 min. to infuse the broth with onion flavor; the onions should be soft but not falling apart. Remove the herb bundle and taste the soup for seasoning. The soup can be made ahead to this point and then cooled and refrigerated for a few days.
    3. To serve -- Heat the oven to 350°F, put the baguette slices on a rack, and toast lightly (7 to 10 min.); set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 450°F. Bring the soup back to a simmer. Set six ovenproof soup crocks on a heavy baking sheet and ladle the soup into the crocks. Float a few toasted baguette slices on top, enough to cover the soup surface without too much overlap. Top the bread with a handful (about 1/4 cup) of the grated Gruyère. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and just browning in spots, 10 to 12 min.
    4. Melted, bubbly, just barely golden cheese is what you're after. Serve the soup right away, while the crock is hot and the cheese is still gooey.

No need to shed any tears when slicing onions. I put on my trusty pair of Onion Goggles, pull out a big bowl and produce sliced onion perfection with my OXO Handheld Mandoline, one of the many wonderful items in my Camp Blogaway swag bag. Bon Appetit!

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