The first time I had French onion soup, it was made by my grandmother, who was known as Ma. She was crazy about Julia Child, so it may well have been one of Julia's recipes; all I know is that it was pretty darned tasty. Ma had some of those little French onion soup bowls with the wee little handles on one side (I have me eye on a set of four Pfaltzgraff ones on e-Bay that match my dishes and I'm thinking about asking my husband if he wants to get me an early Christmas present), and let me tell you: Nothing shouts "PRESENTATION!" like a French onion soup bowl coming out from under the broiler with browned cheese going over the edges, a toasty blanket of melty goodness.
And then I took my first bite and found the crouton. Ahhhhh....
Since I don't have French onion soup bowls, my soupe à l'oignon gratinée made its appearance in my little ramekins, which also match my dishes. (Here are some onion soup bowls from Le Creuset.) It worries me that I am very excited about having EVERY MATCHING PIECE OF POTTERY in the Yorktowne pattern that ever was turned out of a Pfaltzgraff kiln. We received sixteen place settings plus little odds and ends like salt and pepper shakers and butter dishes as wedding gifts and my urge to add to what I already have remained latent for many years, but now it's come back in the same manner that full moons come back around for werewolves.
What is this madness that has seized me? Since the Yorktowne pattern made its debut in 1968 as a tribute to early American salt-glazed pottery, you'd better believe that the good folks at Pfaltzgraff have had a bunch of busy years to think up different items like corn on the cob holders, tulip mugs, teapots, cheese servers and casserole dishes to drive undisciplined people like me into a collecting frenzy. Where will it all end? Possibly with me owning so many dishes purchased for $3.99 plus shipping on e-Bay that we'll have to move into a whole new house, leaving this one as Shelley's Museum of Bourgeois Stoneware. I don't mind being the curator, but I don't want to do the dusting.
(I do promise to stop short of the Fan Blade Appliqués. Because when I saw them, I realized that there can be too much Yorktowne...)
Anyway, back to the soup...
This soup was very easy to prepare. All you had to do was slice the onions nice and thin, throw them in a pan with some butter and cook until they caramelized nicely, throw in a little flour, some white wine and water and a bouquet garni, and there you have your soup. I was surprised that I didn't have to make beef stock, and actually very glad that I didn't have to go to the trouble.
The only trouble I did have is that I just can't get this food from Le Cordon Bleu at Home salty enough. I know it's not just me, because I read the blogs of my fellow Whisk Wednesdays members and they seem to be salting things a lot, too. Hmmm.
I toasted little rounds of baguette and grated up the Gruyère to put on top, planning on serving dinner to my family while the ramekins of soupe were getting all melty in the oven. I don't trust my broiler, so I never use it; instead, I heated the oven to 4250 F and let it go from there.
But all was not rosy -- or maybe "oniony"? -- on the way to this week's Whisk Wednesdays recipe, my friends. I had two problems (one minor, one major) that affected the way the soup turned out.
1) The bottle in my fridge that I thought was dry chardonnay (Robert Mondavi Woodbridge chard) was actually a bottle of Oliver Winery's soft white, which is definitely on the sweet side. The soup didn't taste bad at all with the sweeter wine, but I wonder what it would have tasted like if I'd been able to use the chardonnay I thought I had, which I subsequently remembered finishing off last week during a time when the girls were driving me crazy.
2) The soup was so unsalty when I first finished it -- and that was after a generous application of coarse sea salt straight from the box -- that I added enough to make it taste good. (And it did taste good! I do have that success to clutch to my heart during the darkest hours of the night.) Before I served the finished product to the fam, I sat down with a tiny serving of soup, crouton and cheese and was horrified to find that the Gruyère was very salty; combined with the soup, it was just awful.
Fortunately, I remembered Ma's way of dealing with salty soup, which was to peel a potato, cut it in half, and then simmer the potato halves for twenty minutes in the soup: the starch in the potato is supposed to suck some of the brininess out of your soup. So I tried that, but I'm not sure it worked.
When the soup came to the table tonight, it looked adorable. A very cute soup! The cheese had melted and browned a bit and bubbled over the ramekins and the soup itself was a nice deep golden brown color and as I picked up my spoon, I was so happy that I'd remembered that little housewife's trick with the potato.
And then I took the first spoonful. Zut alors, but was that a salty soup! We all took about four bites and had to give it up. I blame the cheese. I can't remember what brand it was, but it was waaaay too salty and I'll never buy it again if I can recognize the package, which I probably won't be able to, as Aisling would say. The soup was very good without the cheese and the cheese was good without the soup, but together, they were cringe-making.
It was par for the course tonight, though. I made buttermilk biscuits that didn't rise and I didn't make gravy because we ran out of milk and the green beans were barely warm and the potatoes were downright chilly and if you don't mind, I think I'll just go and get the rest of that bottle of Oliver's soft white and go sit on the back steps and think moodily about e-Bay auction I lost for a two-tier tidbit tray to some sneaky sniper who came in at the last moment and stole it from me.
It was Yorktowne. It was mine. And I was robbed.
Better luck next week on the soup (I've been on a real run of flops lately, which is destroying my confidence, just in case you wondered).
Potage Ambassadeur (Split Pea Soup with Bacon, Sorrel, and Lettuce) page 462
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