Then my mother gave me a bit of money for my birthday. I thought long and hard about what I wanted. I knew I wanted something to cook with. New measuring cups and spoons? A cast iron skillet? A Silpat? It wasn't enough money for a Le Crueset, but I decided if I could find a bargain on a Dutch oven, that's what I'd get. The deal was sealed when Smitten Kitchen, my favorite food blog, put out a gift list with a Dutch oven at the top. I felt I must have one.
Randomly, I was at the store a few days later and a found Lodge Color 6 quart Dutch oven for 20% off! It turned out to be only $63! That certainly seemed like a steal, so I picked out a blue one and brought it home. (Thanks, Mom!)
And then I realized I didn't know what to make. After all of those recipes I'd flipped past or clicked on, I couldn't think of a single thing to cook in my new Dutch oven! So I did what anyone would do these days---I searched the internet. Most of the top searches pulled up camping recipes. Fail. I searched a couple food blogs, to little avail. Where were all of those Dutch oven recipes, now?! A Cook's Illustrated search turned up a few ideas---including a Best French Onion Soup recipe...where the onions alone cook for almost 3 hours! I don't usually have time for such things. But--and this is why I love Cook's Illustrated---they also included a Quicker French Onion Soup recipe. Score! (The secret is microwaving the onions for 20 minutes before browning them.)
With the help of my friend Libby, I got to do two new things in one day: make French onion soup for the first time and, finally, cook with a Dutch oven. I'd say it was a productive day!
French Onion Soup
- 6 large yellow onions (around 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4 inch slices (onions sliced this way retain their shape better)
- Table salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
- 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups beef broth
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Ground black pepper
- 1 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 8 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese
- Combine onions and 1 teaspoons salt in a large, microwaveable bowl. Cover completely with a microwaveable plate. Microwave on high for 10 minutes, stir, and microwave for another 10-15 minutes, until onions are soft and wilted. Drain liquid from onions.
- When the onions are nearly done, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add wilted onions and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the pot, 15-20 minutes-- until all liquid evaporates and onions are brown. Cook another 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until a dark crust (fond) forms on the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in 1/4 cup water and scrape the pot to loosen the crust, then stir and cook until the water evaporates and a dark crust begins to form--another 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat this process (deglazing) another 2 times. Onions should be very dark brown. Add the sherry and stir until it evaporates--about 5 minutes.
- Stir in chicken and beef broth, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Scrape any last browned bits from the pot. Turn heat to high and bring soup to a simmer. Then reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes---until the bread is crisp and golden. Set aside. Turn oven up to broil.
- Remove and discard herbs from the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Adjust oven rack to about 6 inches from broiler. Divide soup among oven safe bowls. Place bread slices on top of soup, without overlapping. Sprinkle each serving generously with grated gruyere. Place bowls on a baking sheet and broil until cheese is melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.
(Serves 4 to 6)