Friday, February 03, 2012

The perfect first course soup!

       When I entertain, I always like to have a first course to start the meal. In the summer, it’s almost always a salad of some sort, since there is so much great produce available. But in the winter, I like soup.
       A first course soup can’t be too hearty or you’ll spoil your guests’ appetite for the rest of the meal. I’ve always loved French onion soup, but that is indeed a meal in itself. This onion soup is a great alternative.
       It takes a while to cook the onions for this soup, but the entire recipe can be made ahead and reheated at serving time. You don’t want the onions deeply caramelized, as for French onion soup; just a nice golden brown is perfect.
       You can use store-bought crostini toasts for this recipe, but I find it easy enough to make my own, and I like the way the home-made ones absorb the soup.
       For the blue cheese, get a mild one that will get soft and creamy at room temperature. Gorgonzola works well, as do the soft ripened ones like Saga or Cambozola. Stronger flavored blues, such as Roquefort or stilton, would overpower the taste of the soup.
       This soup would go well before almost any main course that doesn’t have a lot of onion in it. In larger servings, with extra blue cheese toasts, it would also make a very nice luncheon. For a less formal presentation—a Super Bowl party maybe?—you might puree the soup with a hand blender and serve it in mugs with the toasts on the side.
       However you do it, I’m sure your guests will love it as much as mine did!

Onion and Cider Soup with Blue Cheese Croutons

4 large onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups apple cider or apple juice
A few sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups beef broth or stock
1 cup water
2 tbsp brandy

       In a heavy pan, cook the onions in the olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. This will take 30-45 minutes. Stir in the cider, thyme, broth, water and brandy. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
       Ladle the soup into soup bowls and float blue cheese croutons on top. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8 as a first course soup.

Blue Cheese Croutons

Per serving:
1 slice baguette, about ½” thick
1 tbsp soft mild blue cheese, at room temperature

       Preheat the broiler. Put the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast lightly under the broiler. Spread the blue cheese on the toast. When ready to serve, run under the broiler just until the cheese is beginning to bubble and get a bit browned on top.

No comments: