There were a few more items in our fairly bare cupboard when we returned from our Colorado visit. Besides, I was holding off a trip to the grocery store for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I felt a bit lazy.
I found two russet potatoes, and baked potatoes came to mind. They are certainly easy, but they also seemed a little boring. Twice-baked potatoes use almost exactly the same ingredients, but somehow they seem a little more festive, so that’s what I decided to do.
Just out of the oven
Ready to eat
- 2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
- vegetable shortening
- 2 slices bacon
- 4 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
- 4 tablespoons butter + more for the topping
- ¼ cup cream
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Rub the potatoes all over with vegetable shortening, pierce on both sides in several places with a kitchen fork and place on a baking rack in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, turning once halfway through the baking. Remove from the oven and cool until the potatoes are easy to handle.
- Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and with a large spoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼ inch rim intact. Try not to pierce the skin. Transfer the scooped out flesh to a large bowl. Mash coarsely with a table fork.
- In the meantime, sauté the bacon in a small pan over medium-low heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on several layers of paper towelling and crumble when cooled. Set aside.
- Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat in the still hot pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked through. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter, and stir it into the mashed potatoes along with the cream and sour cream. Then add the shallot, garlic and Gruyère cheese. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed potato shells. Smooth the tops, paint with more melted butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the middle of the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400°F and continue to bake until the tops of the stuffed potatoes are browned, about 10 more minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Two potato halves make a light dinner or lunch. One potato half is a good side dish.
Who doesn’t like onion soup? My older daughter for one. She actually doesn’t like anything with onions. I can’t understand her taste, because for me a well-made bowl of onion soup topped with a crisp round of garlic crouton and melted Gruyère cheese approaches the perfect simple evening meal. The problem is that there is many a bowl of not-well-made soup. The dehydrated variety doesn’t even really qualify as soup, and the canned sort is not much better. Sometimes you see a version of onion soup in the steam table on a buffet line. That, too, is usually not very appealing. And all of this is too bad because the real thing is so easy to make.
Julia Child showed Americans how to make a good soup, along with a lot of her other revelations on good cooking. From time to time we still watch Julia making soup on a black-and-white DVD of her early shows I got as a gift from my children many years ago. I also check out her classic recipe in our tattered, disintegrating copy of Volume One of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (pages 43-45). As is always the case, Julia took no shortcuts, and her instructions can sometimes appear daunting. Those may be the reasons that onion soup is not a mainstay of most kitchens. Another reason may be that the soup is viewed by modern cooks as a bit old-fashioned. I say too bad to that! The final reason may be that many, like my daughter, don’t like onions. That remains a mystery to me.
The version that follows is a riff on Julia Child’s recipe, but I have tried to simplify preparation a bit so that you can whip up soup in the afternoon for dinner in the evening. Add some crusty French bread and fresh butter along with a bottle of chilled dry white wine, and you have everything you need for a relaxing evening at home.
Soup at the simmer
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 medium yellow onions, slice as thinly as possible (use a mandoline)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 Tablesoons all-purpose flour
- 4 Cups beef stock (home-made or packaged)
- ½ Cup dry, white vermouth
- pepper to taste
- 4 half-inch slices of French baguette
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half crosswise
- 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated coarsely
Ready to pop under the broiler
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan with lid. Add the onions and salt. Stir and cover to sweat the onions. Be careful not to let them burn.
- When the onions are translucent and soft, remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium-high, and stir in the sugar.
- Stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, caramelize the onions until they are golden brown. They will not begin to brown until most of the liquid has boiled off. Be very careful not to let the onions burn.
- When you are satisfied with the color of the onions, add the flour, stirring until the onions are completely coated. Cook a few minutes so that the flou loses its raw taste.
- Add the beef stock and vermouth; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover and turn the heat to simmer so that the mixture just barely bubbles every few seconds. Simmer for at least two hours.
- While the soup is simmering, prepare the croutons by placing the baguette slices on a sheet pan in an oven preheated to 200°. Bake until the bread has dried out a bit. Then remove from the oven and scrape the cut garlic over both sides of the bread slices. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the bread has completely dried and turned a light brown color. Remove from the oven, cool the croutons, and set aside.
- When your soup has simmered long enough, ladle it into four oven-proof soup bowls. Top each bowl with a garlic crouton and cover with the grated cheese.
- Place the bowls on a sheet pan and slide under a pre-heated broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese is melted and – if you prefer – lightly browned.
- Serve immediately.
Is it soup yet? Definitely!
Serves two if you’re really hungry or four if you would rather enjoy the wine.