Wednesday, October 10, 2012

French Onion and Mushroom Soup

Food memories are extremely powerful things.  So many events in our lives revolve around food- wedding cake, your first meal in a fancy restaurant, comfort food from mom after a long day at school.  One of my favorite food memories revolves around French onion soup.

When I was growing up, my family was fortunate enough, thanks in part to a bygone era when companies had good perks, to belong to a country club.  The point was so my dad could take clients there, but I have no memories of that ever actually happening.  I do have many wonderful memories of going to dinner there once a month, getting all dressed up, and being treated like family by the wonderful wait staff who watched us grow up.

At these dinners, my mom would almost always get the French onion soup.  She loves it, with the melt-y cheese bubbling on top and the deep caramelized onion flavor.  My goal when she ordered onion soup was to pick all of the little bits of cheese off of the side of the bowl that would get crunchy and toasted.  My mom had to watch me like to a hawk to make sure that I didn't get all of it.

This isn't my only memory of French onion soup.  When I was young, I didn't actually like the onion part of the soup.  The broth, yes.  The cheese, yes.  I could take or leave the crouton floating at the top.  And my mom, with the patience of a saint, would strain out the onions for me when she would make it at home. Sometimes I wonder how she put up with me!

This will turn into....
Eventually, as my palate became more refined, I started to actually endure the caramelized onions, and now I love them. I could literally eat them out a bowl with a fork and be perfectly happy.  One things I don't love about caramelizing onions is standing at the stove for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring and stirring.  I love recipes that take all day and make my home smell delicious, so I did some research and found out a great and easy way to make the onions without standing there stirring.  Now, you can't leave the house while this recipe is working, but you can watch some TV or do other chores.


Oven Caramelized Onions
12 points for the whole batch

3 pounds of onions (I used a mix of white and sweet), sliced thinly
4 tablespoons of butter
cooking spray

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Spray the inside of an oven proof dish with a lid with cooking spray (I like to use a dutch oven).  Put all the onions in the dish, then put the butter, cut into chunks, on top. Cover and bake for 2 to 3 hours, stirring every half an hour.  If there is a lot of liquid in the dish after the first hour, crack the lid.  Your onions are ready when they are a deep, golden brown.  Set them aside in a bowl, but do not clean our the dutch oven yet!

When I decided I wanted to make French onion soup on my day off, I also decided I wanted to lighten it up.    Beef stock or broth from the store isn't very good, and I didn't feel like making my own.  Plus, the way I decided to do it makes it vegetarian.  I went ahead and made my own mushroom stock.  It was very easy.

The ingredients for the mushroom stock all laid out
Mushroom Stock
14 points for the whole batch

4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 portabello mushroom caps, chopped into large chunks
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
6 ounces dried mushrooms- any variety will work
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 carrot, chopped into several pieces
Parmesan rind (optional, available at Whole Foods)
Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary
                                                                                      16 cups of water

Clean the mushrooms of any dirt and prepare all the other ingredients. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot.  Once sizzling, put in the portabello caps and the baby bellas.  Saute until brown, about 5-7 minutes.  Once brown, throw everything else in and cover with the water.  Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours.  There should be a lovely earthy fragrance to the stock at this point.  Let the stock cool for about half an hour.
Once cool, pour the broth into another container through a fine mesh sieve.  You want it to be clear, so you may have to pour it through a cheesecloth or food-safe paper towels to get all the little bits out.  Set aside. 

And now we get to point where you combine everything into a beautiful soup!

French Onion and Mushroom Soup
Makes 6 servings (6 points) or 8 servings (4 points)
*points value is only for soup, not for bread or cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced - I used 4 ounces of shitake and 4 ounces of Whole Foods Gourmet Blend
2 ounces dried chanterelle mushrooms
Caramelized onions
Mushroom stock

All that brown stuff on the sides of the dutch oven?
FLAVOR! Make sure you scrape that into the soup!!
Put the dried chanterelle mushrooms in a heat safe bowl and pour boiling water on them to re-hydrate   Let stand until ready to use.
Heat the dutch oven over medium heat, and pour in the olive oil. Once the olive oil is hot, saute the fresh mushrooms until golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the caramelized onions.  Drain the chanterelles, and put in the pot.  Pour in the mushroom stock.
Turn the heat to low and let simmer for at least 1 hour, and as long as 3 depending on your time constraints.

You can serve this plain, or in the traditional way.  Fill an oven-safe French onion soup bowl with soup, and float a slice of baguette on top.  Cover with shredded cheese (I like Gruyere  but you can use many different kinds of cheeses including mozzarella for a milder flavor).  Broil for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.  Use caution, as this will be HOT.  Make sure to pick the crusty cheese off the sides of the bowl!

I hope I have inspired you to recreate some of your favorite food memories.  Feel free to tell me about them in the comments section!

1 comment:

  1. Nothing says Fall like a gorgeous bowl of soup that's taken (almost) all day to make. This was absolutely delicious and melds nostalgic french onion soup with a more modern twist of lightening it up and going vegetarian.