French Onion Soup with Garden-Fresh Ingredients
By Teresa O’Connor
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A member of the allium family, onions are packed with healthy phytochemicals, including the cancer-fighting antioxidant called flavonoids. Onions also contain vitamin C, folic acid, calcium and fiber. Not bad for a vegetable most of us consider just a “culinary seasoning.”
In many parts of the world, onions have long been a common ingredient in folk remedies. They are particularly popular in fall and winter recipes, where they are said to help fight colds and flu symptoms.
Personally, I can’t imagine a world without onions. Many soups, casseroles, quiches and side dishes simply taste better with a bit of onion. In fact, I start nearly every hot dinner by chopping an onion and sautéing it with a bit of olive oil. The aroma alone gets me in the mood to begin cooking.
I often grow onions in my vegetable beds. Here are some ‘Candy’ onions that I grew next to edible flowers like violas. You can start onions from seeds, which will take up to four months to mature. But I start my onions in the spring by buying sets (tiny, immature onions) from my local independent garden center. They usually take several months to ripen.
Onions thrive in well-amended soil, with a pH ranging between 6.0 and 6.8. They like well-drained soil, and plenty of regular watering. As your onions grow, they will push themselves out of the ground, as you can see here. Keep them a bit exposed.
You can harvest onions while still small. Or, let them grow full size. You’ll know they’re ready to harvest when the foliage turns brown and topples over. When they are ready, pull them out with the tops attached. Allow them to “cure” in a dry outdoor space like the wooden table in the first photo. The onion roots will shrivel and the necks will slowly dry out. After about a week, clip off tops and store them somewhere cool, like a root cellar or refrigerator.
French Onion Soup Recipe
One delicious way to eat these garden-fresh vegetables is in an onion soup, which cultures have enjoyed since ancient times. Onion soups have been found in Old World European and American Colonial-era cookbooks.
Perhaps the most famous version is French Onion soup, served with a slice of bread and cheese on top. Here’s a recipe we enjoy in my home. This soup takes the chill off a frosty day, and is ideal for fall and winter meals. As always, feel free to improvise as you see fit. Most traditional recipes call for yellow onions, but I’ve had luck with adding leeks and red onions too.
2 tablespoons of butter or 1 tablespoon of olive oil
7 big onions, cut in half and then thinly sliced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 quarts of homemade (or organic) beef broth
1 cup of dry red wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon of sugar (to caramelize onions)
1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour (to thicken soup)
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon of dried thyme, or 1 heaping teaspoon of fresh thyme
Sliced or grated cheese, such as Asiago, Gruyere or Swiss
Crusty bread sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
Melt butter in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic, and sprinkle on sugar. Stir occasionally. Allow onions and garlic to caramelize slowly for about an hour. They should be soft and golden brown.
Add flour and stir to coat the onions. If flour doesn’t absorb into a paste for the onions, add a bit more butter. Stir constantly for a few minutes, and don’t allow the flour to burn.
Pour a half cup of stock slowly to mix well with onion mixture. Then add remainder of stock, red wine, bay leaf and thyme.
Cook partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes, until the flavors have melded nicely. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Turn oven to broil. In oven-proof bowls, dish up the soup. Add toasted bread to the top of each bowl. Crusty, homemade-style bread is best. On top of toasted bread slices, add a slice of cheese, or 1/4 cup of grated cheese.
Broil carefully for just a minute until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.