Friday, 13 February 2009


In Scotland, the rain is that person you know who nags and moans all the time. That person who pecks at you, probably without even realizing it, until you are tearing you hair out because the rain is so endless and wimpy. The constant spittle flung from the grey skies can be rather torturous, in other words.

And then Sonoma County...the weather is wonderfully tempermental.
Yesterday it was spring. The sky blue the sun out and the daffodils lifting their yellow faces happily. Even though it was still chilly, we drank ice tea and I even made popsicles (Rosemary and Apple Cider Vinegar from Bon Appetit).
Then today, after a few winks of blue this morning, the charcoal clouds rolled in and it rained like it meant it. It rained like a release, like a scream of frustrated nature, and we could hear it throughout the house - the putt putt putt against the wooden roof and the splashes against the skylights.

Hard Rain: solid, strong, forceful.
Perfect for onion soup.

Besides having a wonderfully stocked kitchen in my parent's house, we also have innumerable cookbooks. Some splattered with decades old grease and some barely opened. Among the barely opened is Chez Panisse Cooking, by Paul Bertoli. Now I know I have looked at this cookbook before, the restaurant is famous and local, after all. I'm pretty sure I was intimidated by recipes involving freshly killed rabbits and breads that required weeks of starter yeast preparation. But with all this time on my hands, the book presented a challenge.

And to begin the challenge, Bread and Onion Soup with Red Wine, a simple recipe, although time consuming, that seemed like the perfect substantial soup for a cold and rainy evening. And there is something so satisfying about slicing onions, having a good excuse to cry, and then staring out the window as the redwoods and madrones are pelted with rain while the onions sizzle with a light heat and you are safe in your parent's yellow kitchen, watching.

Bread and Onion Soup with Red Wine
adapted from Chez Panisse Cooking

This is a half recipe, which served three of us very generously, although I have increased the amount of thyme, broth, and cheese.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (about 4 large ones), thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp salt
3 large slices sourdough bread
1/2 cup fruity red wine
3 cups beef broth
black pepper
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp parmesan cheese

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) Warm half the oil in large heavy pot at medium, then add the onions and the thyme. Stir well to coat the onions with oil and get them going, then turn the heat to low and let sizzle gently for one hour, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and just browning. Add salt.

3) When the onions are halfway through cooking, brush the slices of bread with olive oil and toast them in the oven for about twenty minutes until browned and very dried out. (If they don't dry completely, you end up with gluey bread in your soup).

4) Add the wine to the onions and let the alcohol burn off at medium heat for a minute or two. Add the broth and plenty of black pepper.

5) Remove toasts from oven and rub them, while still hot, with the garlic clove halved crosswise. Break the toasts into pieces and place half in a deep baking dish (I used 8 by 8 by 2). Cover the bread with a thick layer of onions removed with a slotted spoon (Save broth for later). Sprinkle half the cheese over the onions, then lay the rest of the bread over the cheese, add the rest of the onions, then the rest of the cheese. Ladle a scant cup of liquid over the toasts.

6) Bake in the oven for one hour.

7) Reheat the remaining broth. Divide the oven soup into bowl, then pour 1/2 cup of heated broth around each serving. Serve immediately.

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