martedì 1 marzo 2011
(Not French) Onion Soup
Catherine de’Medici was fat, unattractive, and unloved by her husband who, as it turned out, became Henry II, King of France. She was infertile for the first 11 years of their marriage, and then started popping them out in rapid succession. Of her nine children, seven survived their infancy.
She was born in 1519 to Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, the grandson of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and his French wife, Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, both of whom died before Catherine was one. She spent some formative years in the Florentine convent of Le Murate before her worried uncle – in this case, Pope Clement VII – figured out a way to marry her off. And marry her out: like, to a foreign country.
History has not been kind to her. She had (and has) a nasty reputation, as is often inevitable with women who have any access to power. She had a hand (or didn’t) in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), in which a whole lot of Huguenots were unnecessarily killed (those who survived limped their way to Canada and other places, or came to help populate Livorno, soon to be declared a free city).
Ask any self-respecting Italian about French cuisine, and he/she will inevitably say, “Oh! When Catherine de’Medici went off to France in 1533, she took her chefs with her, and thus French cuisine was born.”
Utter nonsense. The late, great Alan Davidson, in his majestic Oxford Companion to Food, has an entry entitled “Culinary Mythology.” Heading that list is “Catherine de’Medici Transformed French Cookery.” He quotes Barbara Ketcham Wheaton’s (1983) study which proves that the French already had their cuisine in place, thank you very much. But Italians need to believe in fairy tales, just like we do (think of our westerns), and so we should gently humor them, as they sometimes attempt to humor us.
Onion soup might be a case in point. In the States, the onion-filled soup, put in individual gratin dishes, iced with grated Fontina or Emmenthaler cheese, is called French onion soup. It’s got a slice of grilled, toasted, garlic’d bread as its base, then the soup is ladled on top, then the cheese on top of that, and then it hits the broiler. What emerges is crunchy on the top and non-crunchy from within. It’s heavenly.
A problem arose yesterday when making this soup, as I did not have the requisite amount of onions. So I went out to the garden and pulled up some long-suffering red onions that never properly came to fruition. The puppers were most interested in this, as you can see.
It was the Scallion’s birthday and we celebrated it by eating many things from the onion family: we started with a most marvelous pork/chicken liver pate with pickled onions from David Tanis’s brilliant Heart of an Artichoke (any self-respecting foodophile/buona forchetta should have this in his/her kitchen), and then followed it with onion soup.
What follows is the recipe. It is not Tuscan (since it has balsamic vinegar in it, giving a nod to Modena, which is in Emilia-Romagna). It is also not Tuscan because it has a generous dollop of gorgonzola/mascarpone in it (to hell with something on the top, and the broiler), and gorgonzola comes from the village of the same name near Milan, and mascarpone comes from just about everywhere.
But it still tastes pretty good, and Catherine, it is hoped, might have liked it.
Zuppa di cipolla/Onion Soup
3 T. butter
1 lb. red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lb. white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ c. best-quality balsamic vinegar
1 c. red wine
3 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
Generous ¼ c. Gorgonzola (best if you have a combination of Gorgonzola/mascarpone)
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Melt the butter in a heavy stock pot. Add the onions, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Cook 'til tender, then toss in the balsamic vinegar, and reduce.
Once the balsamic’s reduced, add the wine; let it bubble gently for a bit, then toss in the chicken broth. Let come to a boil, turn the flame down, and let cook for about 15 minutes.
Add the Gorgonzola, and swirl it around ‘til it melts. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
Garnish with parsley, if you want a wee bit of color in an otherwise drab looking soup.
Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999.
David Tanis, Heart of the Artichoke and other kitchen journeys, New York, 2010.