French Onion Soup

Another week has flown by. I had to go back to work. It rained a lot. I made “the” Spanish tortilla. And I also made this French Onion Soup. But before I made this soup there was Lunes de Aguas, or I guess we could say “Monday of Water”. This is a strange little holiday. It only exists in the province of Salamanca and it falls on the first Monday after Easter break, therefore extending the holiday by one last day. (Mondays are hard, we don’t want to have to go back to reality on a Monday!)

I call it a strange little holiday because of the story behind it: back in the day all of the prostitutes were obligated to leave the city limits and go across the river that runs along Salamanca’s souther border during Holy Week. On Monday, after Easter Sunday, they would go fetch the hookers and let them come back to the city. Now, you thought that was the strange part, but actually this is: at lunchtime everything in Salamanca would shut down and everyone would go down to the river and sit on the grassy bank with their families to have a picnic and watch the prostitutes return to the city. Thankfully, the only part of this tradition which remains is the shutting down and the picnic. Even the picnic food is a tradition, you must eat Hornazo.

Hornazo is like an empanada filled with chorizo, pork loin and ham. In the week leading up to Lunes de Aguas literally every bakery in Salamanca advertises Hornazos, encouraging you to order one. We picked up this sucker, which weighed about 3 pounds (1.5 kilos) at a local shop and, along with some beers, headed down to the river with some friends to picnic for the rest of the afternoon. While pretty much everyone partakes in this tradition, the river is mostly filled with young people eating, drinking, and generally enjoying usually one of the first decently warm days of the spring.

Then French Onion Soup. I had it once in Paris, but that wasn’t really why I wanted to make it. Actually, when I was in Zamora, I stopped in the village where my aunt and uncle have a country home and a huge vegetable garden. While I was there, they gave me a bunch of onions, like 6 or 7 pounds of onions! And that’s when it came to me.

So, I made this soup thinking it was 4 servings, but it turned out to be only two (but we had it as a main dish, not as the starter, so probably there would be enough for 4). Four cups of onions, sliced thinly and vertically went into a pot with a little bit of olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pot). Five minutes on medium-high heat to get them going. Add 1/4 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Then 20 minutes with the heat reduced to medium, stirring it every 2-3 minutes as the onions caramelize. Keep an eye on it, you don’t want them to get browned, just slowly wilt and turn a caramel brown color.

When 20 minutes have passed and the onions look like this, crank up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pot with a little white wine. Then add 4 cups of broth and 1/8 teaspoon of thyme. Bring this to a simmer, cover, and let it do its thing for 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours…it’s a quite time consuming soup, but during that time the soup needs nothing from you, so you can do any of the other things you might enjoy doing.

After 2 hours, turn on your broiler, and toast 4 1-inch slices of french bread and then cut them into 1-inch cubes. Divide the soup up between 2 large (or 4 small) oven-safe bowls and top the bowls with the bread cubes and some freshly grated cheese (I think the typical is swiss cheese – or something similar – but I used Grana Padano). Put them on a baking sheet and under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Be patient, because the soup is now super hot and you will burn your tongue off.

While this is a really time consuming soup, you only have to actively cook for the first 30 minutes, so it’s good for a day when you’re going to be hanging out at home all morning, you know, doing your laundry and watching TV. The flavors are amazingly rich and the onions are practically disolved. Considering there is no flour or anything to thicken it, you might imagine onions floating around in broth, but actually it comes out thick and hearty.

I got the recipe from Cooking Light and it was for 8 servings, I halved it because I didn’t want to eat this soup four times this week, but actually if you are eating it on its own, I would make double whats below for two reasons: it takes a long time and I bet the next day it’s even better!

Here’s the ingredient list for 2 main dish servings or 4 starters:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 cups sweet onions, thinly and vertically sliced (about 3 medium onions)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 4 cups lower-sodium chicken or beef broth (1 liter)
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme
  • 4 1-inch slices of french bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons of freshly grated Grana Padano or Swiss cheese

*Recipe adapted from (link)

A note to my European friends: It has been brought to my attention that American measurements are not helpful and that it would be cool to have some metric measurements. I’m doing the best I can! Some things are so difficult because we use volume (cups) where Europeans would use weight (grams)… Anyway, just so you know: a “teaspoon” is a small spoon or “cucharilla de café”, a “tablespoon” is a large spoon or “cuchara sopera”, and a “cup” is like a normal drinking glass. I hope that helps!


New Year, New Blog

I’m starting out 2012 with a new blog about, what else?, food! After a fabulous vacation visiting my family and friends in California, I have returned to Spain with a lot of encouragement and energy to start the new year. It’s funny how three weeks in sunny, warm Southern California can make you forget what the cold feels like. And, man, is it cold. In fact, we had our first snow here this afternoon. And what could be a better way to forget the cold weather outside but to indulge in warm, rich chocolate with freshly made churros.

Chocolaterias Valor are one of Spain’s best chocolate manufacturers and one of their specialties is this hot chocolate “drink” – and use the term “drink” loosly to mean thick, rich, delicious melted milk chocolate. Here in Salamanca we just happen to be so lucky to have a Valor Café where they serve the chocolate piping hot and fry the churros when you order them. I like to sprinkle a little sugar on them and get to dunking.

I haven’t personally attempted this one, but if you’ve got a winter chill and want to give them a shot, here’s a recipe to get you going.

Now, before I sign off, I’ll prove to you all that it really is snowing with a picture taken in Salamanca’s beautiful main square.