Tuesday, October 18, 2011

apples and onions

and the occasional mouse
the Buddha onion
I just cleaned out my pantry.

It was way past due.

There were those widgety moths that get into live grains, and messes that mice made.

Don’t ever put one of those metal containers (most people call them cans) of olive oil in the pantry with mice.  They chaw through the little plastic neck of the stopper and climb in. You can feel the ass-over-kilter of them slosh heavily around in there when you pick it up.

Hopefully you sense it before you’ve chowed down on some truffled mice. Well no, that would be mice confit, left to bubble only slightly in its own or another’s fat. But of course there was no heat involved here, just room-temperature olive oil and a slowly expiring rat. I mean mouse.

Maybe it was only a really tiny one, practically pink yet, and so tender. Barely grazed by the world. But, what would a pink infant mouse be doing climbing up the slippery sides of a can and chewing through the slippery plastic of its mouth? Nope. Had to’ve been a big, fat, athletic male.

Yum. Lent such a tang to that fresh and crisp frissée and that fine balsamic vinegar, thick as molasses with age. Greek sea salt. Coarsely cracked black pepper. Tellicherry, even. Something rare about that flavor, like truffles, or that coffee that is collected after it has passed through a certain rodent’s intestines, or that awful cheese that is infested with maggots that appears on some very rare tables. Or that fruit that smells like death, or that fish that if it is not cleaned especially correctly will kill you. Disgusting foods. We pine for them. Put conserved mouse on that list, would you? Just below escargot, please.

Truth in advertising, no mouse got into my olive oil lately, but it did happen some years ago. I believe I discovered it before using any, and after much thought I buried the whole can somewhere in the yard. Ugh.

Now how did you make me get on that subject? Please remember, this is a food column. Let’s keep it cute and pretty. Put on your patent leather heels and straighten the seams in your stockings and don that sweet little ruffled pink apron. Now. We’re ready to cook. Sweet things, like chicken breasts in cream. Lasagna for the daring. Long cooked tomato sauce – here, take a lick from this wooden spoon. Careful, it’s hot. Good isn’t it? I do so envy those people, able to enthuse about simple things and not worry about the seamier side of food, like mouse confit and which kind of onion caramelizes to the rich sweetness best for French Onion Soup.

Because that’s really what I mean to talk about this week.

some perfectly normal and beautiful yellow onions
before they were made into soup
I stopped by Radical Roots Farm on Creek Road to get enough of their small storage onions to store AND to make a French Onion Soup. I’d googled for a recipe I saw on one of the blogs but couldn’t find it. But I did remember a couple of the main pointers. Namely, to caramelize a good number of onions; #2, that there was no need for a meat broth to be added to it; and #3, in no particular order, that sharp yellow onions were best for it. "Sweet onions don’t caramelize as well," Carol Tashie told me (as she was told by Dennis Vieria, chef at the Red Clover Inn in Mendon). But my thought is that sweet onions are TOO sweet. I love the flavor of Carol and Dennis’s sharp little storage onions. But keep in mind that Carol prefers to caramelize the sweet ones, and she IS the expert.

So, when I got home on the afternoon of the evening that my friend Dana, from Virginia, would arrive, I peeled a good number of those little onions and sliced them thinly and set them to begin lightly browning in a cast iron pan over a fairly low heat. Once I saw they were not going to burn I went upstairs and finished the vacuuming and changing bed linen, coming down to check every fifteen minutes or so to stir the onions and make sure they were becoming golden and limp and giving off their lovely juices. Altogether I think they were over that heat for a couple of hours.

Towards the middle I sprinkled them with some salt, and towards the end I added a couple of glugs of sherry and six cups of water to make the onion broth and let them continue to cook over that medium heat. By that time they were delectable, but when I tasted the broth a little bit later I could not help but add a heaping soup spoon of Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate.

Now just hold your horses. I’m all for purity and stuff, but the fact that bouillon – blocks or liquid – is used often by French cooks was uppermost in my mind. Except for the bit of MSG in it, I can’t find anything wrong with this habit, and it does make everything taste a little better.

Dana arrived, and after greetings and a bit of a walk around the garden, we drank some wine with some Blue Ledge Farm Camembrie cheese, and when we were ready to eat I made a salad with a wedge of that melty Camembrie over the top, with some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I cut three apples in half and cored them and set them into an earthenware baking dish with a dab of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt on each one and tucked that into the oven. I sent Leo to the store to get some ice cream.

And then I ladled the onions in broth (after correcting the salt seasoning) into 3 ovenproof soup bowls, placed a slice of French bread that had been griddled in olive oil over the top of the soup, and sprinkled that with a thick layer of Southwind Farm’s raclette-style cheese. A very nice plethora of it. Slid that into a hot oven and let it melt and brown.

When it came time for dessert I alternated layers of apple halves, ice cream, and some Fat Toad Goat Caramel in goblets and topped that with some crunched walnuts sautéed in butter.

What a nice supper!

French Onion Soup

Makes 4 servings
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    3 pounds of sharp yellow onions
•    2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
•    ½ cup (or more) golden or dry sherry
•    6 cups water
•    1 heaped soup spoon of  Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate (available at the Co-op) (optional)
•    ½ lb (or more) Southwind Farm cheese, grated (or other Swiss style cheese)
•    4 slices of good white baguette, cut thick and toasted in olive oil

Heat a deep heavy skillet or dutch oven over low to medium heat, add the olive oil. Peel the onions and slice thinly and spread in the skillet. Cock a cover over the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions give off some moisture and they seem to be browning nicely on the bottom. Adjust the heat. Let them cook for one to two hours, stirring often. Season with some of the salt.  Pour in the sherry and let them cook some more.

Add the water, bring to a simmer and let them cook for ten or so minutes. Stir in the broth concentrate if you are using it, taste for salt and add some if you like. Turn the heat to a very low simmer until you are ready to serve it.

In the meantime grate the cheese and toast the bread slices and, when ready to serve, ladle the onions and broth into four oven-proof bowls placed on a cookie sheet, top with the toastslices and lather liberally with shredded cheese.  Slide into a 400° oven for ten minutes until the cheese is melted and browned and the broth is bubbly.

Serve that up. Enjoy your dinner. Tomorrow? Clean out that pantry! It needs it.

Is that a frog in my soup?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gosh your posts just crack me UP. Rat confit indeed.

I adore French onion soup! Great timing, too: I made some beef stew this weekend and boiled down the liquid to nothing overnight and I just put it in icecube trays this a.m. for future flavoring. The mice, you see, can't find my freezer. :)