Ah, New Year’s—the last consolation for those of us mourning the passing of Christmas…those of us who may be exhausted and overfull, but who are still frolicsome and retain the sparkle and glow of the holidays in our eyes. New Year’s is the hope and promise of one last fête before the drudgery of work, responsibilities, and “resolutions,” heaven forbid, all return.
I’ve seen all kinds of New Year’s parties—from all-night Bacchanalias that made me hate life the next morning to cerebral symposia filled with intellectual banter, classical music, and good wine. (Watching the ball drop on television lost its magic for me many years ago.) No matter how you choose to celebrate, however, one thing is almost certain: you’re typically going to see a very late night. In fact, if you clink a glass of bubbly at midnight, I daresay you’ll suddenly see the next morn.
But when wakeful night stretches into somnolent “day” (however far into that new day your constitution takes you), it’s a fair bet to say you’ll need some kind of restorative at its vengeful end. I myself favor the choice of countless Parisian revelers who swear by the curative powers of onion soup. I’ve read a number of accounts of these party-goers stumbling into the famed Les Halles open-air markets in the wee hours of the morning for just such a bowl of comfort. The markets, sadly, are no more, but the soup is ours for the making.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is not something to be undertaken while still in the grip of a boozy malaise, however—best to make it beforehand so that you have it in your pocket, so to speak, when you need it. But even if your festivities do not involve Bacchus, onion soup is still a marvelously rejuvenating, yet still hearty, dish—one that will warm your soul as well as your toes on a cold night.
There are many onion soups that I love, but this one is a particular favorite. Traditional French onion soups (which the French, by the way, just call onion soup), are made with mostly onions and beef broth or water. This one has—wait for it—alcohol! (Rather like a psychological “hair of the dog,” wouldn’t you say?) Its mixture of red and white wine, brandy and broth, makes this soup rich enough that it doesn’t venture into too-virtuous territory (it’s comfort we’re after, right?). But it still manages to sit lightly, nourish deeply, and satisfy completely. Welcome, new year…
Caramelized Onion Soup
There are those who say that an onion soup, French or otherwise, isn’t a proper one without a cheese-laden piece of toast broiled to the top. I disagree, as I very much dislike a soggy slab of bread cemented to my bowl, no matter how charming it might appear in photos. I prefer my toast on the side, crunchy and distinguishable, but do please yourself! You might notice in my pics that the cheese doesn’t look melted, but that’s because my Gruyère was quite aged and a bit dry. If you choose a younger one, yours should be gloriously melty. Adapted from The Wine Lover’s Cookbook.
Serves 6 or more
Croutons, per serving
1 slice sourdough, or other sturdy bread
Olive oil or butter
About 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, or other slightly aged cheese
3 Tbs. butter
1 red onion, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 sweet onion, sliced
2 tsp. dried or 2 Tbs. fresh fines herbes, or Herbes de Provence, minced [lacking these, a combination of rosemary, thyme, and marjoram is quite good]
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock [or indeed, just water]
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and herbs, if dried, plus 1/2 tsp salt. Cook for about an hour, till deep golden and caramelized, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently near the end. Turn up the heat, and add the white wine, red wine, and brandy. If using fresh herbs, add them here also. Scrape up any stuck-on goodness, and allow to reduce till nearly evaporated. Add bay leaf and stock, and increase heat to boiling. Reduce heat, and simmer about half an hour. Add lemon juice, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
Preheat your broiler. Spread your bread with olive oil or butter, and fry in a pan on top of the stove till lightly browned. Top with cheese and broil 6 or 8 inches from the broiler for about 5 minutes or so, till bubbly and browning in spots. You can either use the same pan if it’s oven-proof, or place the toast on a sheet pan or even just a piece of foil.