Other Vegetable Soups
Two of the greatest of all vegetable soups-tomato soup and onion soup-are made with just a single vegetable. Some cooks argue that tomatoes need the support of an onion and perhaps some herbs, but when tomatoes are at their best, the soup needs nothing more than the tomatoes themselves. French onion soup can be more solid than liquid, almost like a savory bread pudding, or it can be like a consommé, with just a small tangle of onion strands. It is usually somewhere in between, with a savory cheesy crust on top and plenty of onions and broth underneath.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
Onion soup recipes usually call for beef broth, which puts some of us off or has us reaching for a can. Despite the fact that French onion soup can still be marvelous even made with indifferent canned broth, anemic cheese, and white bread, it is worth using a decent broth and the most savory cheese you can find. Because the onions are so flavorful, it makes little difference whether you use beef broth or something else. Some of the best onion soups use turkey broth made from the leftover holiday carcass, and Brown Chicken broth is also a good choice. Traditional recipes call for Gruyère cheese, which is Swiss without the holes, but any sharp, semi-hard cheese, such as Cheddar, aged Gouda, or Fontina d'Aosta, works beautifully. The bread should have a dense crumb-don't use airy bread, which will get soggy-and is ideally cooked in butter ahead of time, which keeps it from absorbing liquid. If you run out of time and don't brown the bread in butter, your soup will still be a success. One warning: You are going to end up with what looks like a mountain of raw onions. Don't worry, as they will cook down to about one-tenth of their original volume. Don't use overly sweet onions, such as Vidalia; use a mild onion, such as a red onion.Makes 6 cups or 6 first-course servings
5 pounds onions, preferably red Bermuda type, sliced as thinly
3 tablespoons butter, plus 6 tablespoons (optional)
1 cup dry sherry or medium-sweet Madeira
1 cup water
1 quart broth, preferably beef, brown chicken, or turkey
6 slices dense-crumb white bread, crusts removed and cut into
2 cups grated semi-hard cheese such as Gruyère, Gouda, or Fontina (about 7 ounces)
In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the soup, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat, stirring for about 10 minutes, or until they release some of their liquid. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring often, for about 30 minutes, or until the liquid runs dry and caramelizes on the bottom of the pot and the onions are melted into a compact tangled mass. Keep a close eye on the onions as they cook so that the liquid doesn't run dry before it should and cause the onions to stick.
Add the sherry and water, bring to a boil, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dissolve the browned-on juices, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast in the oven, turning them every few minutes, for about 15 minutes, or until evenly browned. Leave the oven on. Alternatively, melt the 6 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat and sauté the bread cubes for about 12 minutes, or until evenly browned on all sides.
Return the soup to a simmer if it has cooled. Put 6 soup crocks on a sheet pan (so the soup doesn't overflow onto your oven floor). Ladle the broth and onions into the crocks. Using half of the bread cubes, spread them evenly among the crocks. Top with half of the cheese. Spread the remaining bread cubes on top, and then the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until boiling broth starts to drip down the sides of the crocks.
The complexity of a tomato soup is inversely proportionate to the quality of the tomatoes. When you have perfect in-season ripe tomatoes, just peel, seed, and chop and put them in a pot. Bring them to a simmer and they will release enough liquid to turn them into a soup. If you insist on being more decadent, chop some fresh tarragon or basil, combine it with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream per serving, and swirl it on top of each bowl just before serving. If you are eating the last of the year's tomatoes and there is a nip in the air, here is something a little richer and warming.
Makes 1 quart or 4 first-course servings
Leaves from 10 sprigs tarragon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into strips
12 tomatoes, peeled and seeded, finely chopped
Rub the tarragon leaves with the olive oil, finely chop the leaves, and combine them in a small bowl with 1/2 cup of the cream. Set aside.
In a pot large enough to hold the soup, cook the bacon over medium heat for about
10 minutes, or until it just begins to get crispy. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the remaining 1/2 cup cream and season with salt and pepper. Top each serving with a swirl of the tarragon cream.
Excerpted from Soups and Broths: James Peterson's Kitchen Education by James Peterson. Copyright © 2012 by James Peterson. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.