There’s a special kind of frustration that comes shortly after an exam, upon realizing that you mistook an unrelated concept for the one being tested. I’m sure you know the feeling. For me, the distinctions between one Victorian economist and his contemporary seem downright impossible to mix up (at least in hindsight). And yet, there I was mid-test, inveighing against imperialism when I should have been talking about the tyranny of American landlords.
Fortunately, food is sympathetic to this plight. There’s one dish in particular whose composition is so obvious, forgiving, and rewarding that any scholarly concerns will be forgotten: the noble French onion soup. Unlike your most fastidious professors, this soup cares not if you fumble in the larder, mistaking shallots for onions or thyme for tarragon.
If there’s one thing worth getting preachy about, it’s your stock. Good broth is key for a good soup: Now is the perfect time to use that pork hock broth that you whipped up last week. Or, at least consider making a quick vegetable stock before using bouillon.
As you slice your onions (about three medium onions per litre of stock), heat up some butter (or olive oil) in the bottom of your preferred stockpot. Toss in the onions, reduce to a low-medium heat, and let them caramelize for a really long time. Forty minutes should be fine, but make sure to stir occasionally. Feel free to season to taste, but some Provençal herbs are always a good idea: thyme, marjoram, oregano, etc.
You’re also going to want to deglaze your pan. If you want, your roommate’s three-day-old wine will do the trick, but using Sherry or Madeira is arguably more respectable. Deglazing reclaims the wealth of oniony goodness that’s stuck to the walls of the pan: Pour your alcohol (a cup should be fine) into the hot pan, and stir, scraping down the sides.
Now, add your broth. I am sure you can figure this step out. If you’re using the hock broth from last week, don’t worry if it’s a bit gelatinous – the heat will melt in until it looks like real, safe-to-eat soup. If there’s not enough broth, prepare some bouillon and use that too, but don’t add plain water to the soup.
Let the soup do its thing over low heat while you pour yourself a glass of wine. If you’re having a bad day, you should treat yourself to French onion soup at its best: When you’re ready, ladle the soup into some ovenproof vessel (or keep it in the pot, if that’s safe). Then, cover the soup with sliced bread (I mean real bread – I suggest Cranewood’s) and grated cheese, and broil the whole affair until the cheese is bubbling.