|Asparagus onion soup with Gruyere cheese. © Ryan Schierling|
Make what you want to taste... compose with the flavors you crave... go with the impulse that brought you into the kitchen with these ingredients in the first place. You really do know what you want to eat. Make it.
It's a good mantra. A statement of faith in your own gustatory cravings and a rebuke of any recipe that might dare to stand between you and the food you truly desire.
If you're anything like me, however, sometimes you need a little outside support – a baseline, a secure framework from which to create – perhaps even (gasp!) a proper recipe...
Since my first introduction to the simple – but oh-so-divine – combination of asparagus spears with melted Gruyere cheese, I have not found an asparagus pairing that nears its equal. Little wonder, then, that I eventually began daydreaming this duo into entirely new dishes. The idea that persisted in tugging at me was a vision of French Onion-style soup, heavy on the asparagus, with Gruyere cheese toasted on top.
Now, I have never attempted to make French Onion Soup. The idea of it has always intrigued me, but on those occasions I've dared order it when dining out, I was the unfortunate recipient of a bowl of heavy beef broth with an unwieldy glop of gooey cheese atop. So, this idea just sat and percolated for the longest while... waiting for a satisfactory framework.
It seems fitting that my baseline would show up as a recipe by Jamie Oliver from his beautiful book (and I mean beautiful! ...the old school love just resonates off the hardback), Jamie at Home: Cook your way to the Good Life. Even more fitting that the recipe would be his own adaptation of onion soup as an "English onion soup with sage and Cheddar." Why? Because no one writes a cookbook or introduces a recipe with more freedom to the reader than Jamie Oliver.
In order to give the next cook a guide for precisely replicating a dish, most recipes are written as exacting formulas. Jamie, on the other hand, writes recipes the way he cooks... a good knob of butter... a big handful of fresh herbs... or simply "the ingredient" – no quantity listed at all. It's as if he is loathe to measure and wants only to impart an understanding of the dish to the reader. He wants you to taste the food and confidently expects you to use good judgement, seasoning it to your own taste. His recipes always turn out delicious, but it is for this quality – this great freedom and permission to stay loose when cooking – I love him most.
So I began... my take on a classic, based on someone else's take on a classic. Did I do my due diligence and research "French Onion Soup" online? Nope, this was never an intellectual pursuit; it's as if this book found my fancy first and we just danced. Ironically, it was the day after making the soup that I went online. Having SO enjoyed the way the Gruyere complimented the vegetables and the broth, I was curious to find out what cheese was considered the real classic for French onion soup.
You guessed it – Gruyere.
Sometimes your palate has a wisdom beyond its years – an innate knowledge beyond its training. Trust it.
Asparagus onion soup with Gruyere
& butter 1-2 tablespoons each
5 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
2 medium white onions, peeled and sliced
1 large sweet onion, peeled and sliced
1 very large shallot, peeled and sliced
Saute the above on low for about 1-2 hours, until golden and caramelized.
1-1/2 bunches of fresh asparagus, cut 1"-2" pieces
1-1/2 to 2 quarts good quality beef stock (or equivalent savory stock)
Salt & pepper
Add to onion mixture and simmer until asparagus is tender. Correct/season broth.
Rustic bread, sliced 1/2" to 3/4" thick and toasted lightly
Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
Assemble: Ladle soup into serving bowls, cover with pieces of toasted bread, top generously with Gruyere (and perhaps a drizzle of Worcestershire sauce) and place under a broiler until the cheese is melty and golden. Serve this bubbly goodness at once.