Winter just keeps on coming here on the east coast of the US. Snowstorm followed by snowstorm followed by…well, you get it. With a US holiday today and a wonderful day to myself to putter, I wanted something quick and warming on this chilly day. And a simple humble cheesy onion soup did the trick.
The Italians have their own version of the infamous French onion soup – ‘carabaccia’. In fact, rumor has it that Caterina de’Medici actually brought her Tuscan chefs to France and actually created the first ‘French’ onion soup. The original Renaissance recipe was thick with ground almonds and sweet notes of cinnamon. Over time, the recipe has evolved to omit the sweetness and slowly cook the onions over a low flame so as to draw out their sweetness. And unlike the French, the Italians prefer to put their bread at the bottom of their soup bowls and ladle the warming soup atop. Frances Mayes, in her The Tuscan Sun cookbook, even has a version that layers bread, soup and fontina in a baking dish – soup so wonderfully thick you can eat it with a fork. Some versions top with an egg which poaches in the soup (or you can just add in a poached egg). Whichever way you choose to serve, this incredibly simple recipe warms both your tummy and your soul. Don’t be tempted to rush simmering the onions – allow them to slowly simmer so as to draw out all their wonderful sweetness. Savor the smell wafting from your stove….
Buon pranzo (lunch)!
Carabaccia – Onion Soup, Italian style
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
About 3 pounds sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Tuscan red
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
About 6 cups of beef or vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Thick slices Italian bread, toasted
Grated Parmigiano or pecorino cheese
In a large soup pot, melt the butter with the olive oil over low heat. Thinly slice the onions. Add to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer low and slow for 30 minutes until the onions are translucent and golden. (Do not rush this step – allow the onions to slowly simmer, drawing out their sweetness.)
If using, add the wine and simmer until reduced to about half. Add in the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile, toast the bread. Place one slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each soup bowl. Ladle the soup over the bread and sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese. Allow to rest for a minute to allow the cheese to melt slightly. (Alternatively, heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Using ovenproof bowls, place the bowl in the oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese has melted through.) Serve!