French vs. Italian - Zuppa Di Cipolle Gratinata Al Forno
I’ve always loved French Onion Soup, but as you may remember, Italian food is really my thing, and I was anxious to do an Italian version of it.
The Cippolini onions are my favorite, so sweet and unctuous in this soup. It has all the hearty homeyness of the French version, but with a wonderful Italian twist.
2 pounds Cipollini onions peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced lengthwise into ¼” slices
½ pound shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced lengthwise into ¼” slices
2 leeks, root ends and dark green tops removed, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise into ¼” slices, and rinsed in a colander to wash away any dirt
2 heads fresh garlic, halved crosswise
8 tablespoons high-quality unsalted butter
8 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil
6 cups beef stock
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup good Amarone
½ cup brandy
6 pieces rustic Italian sourdough bread
12 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced into 1 ounce slices
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Bouquet Garni consisting of 3 cloves, 1 whole nutmeg, 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 3 cloves of garlic (lightly crushed), and 12 peppercorns wrapped in muslin cheesecloth and tied with butcher’s twine
3 tablespoons picked thyme leaves
1½ tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
1 rounded tablespoon Paprika
Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt, to taste
Preheat an oven to 375ºF.
Halve each of the heads of garlic crosswise. Set the garlic into an oven-safe dish.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over the exposed cloves, season with salt and pepper if desired, and place in the preheated oven.
Set a timer for 35 minutes.
Heat the remaining olive oil and 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan or ceramic-lined Dutch oven over medium heat.
When the butter is melted and incorporated with the olive oil, add the onions, shallots, and leeks.
Season with a pinch of salt to help release the moisture from the alliums.
Slowly pan roast over the next 40-45 minutes until a deep caramelization has been reached, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
When the alliums have reached almost a deep tobacco color, turn the heat to high and add the Amarone. Reduce until all the alcohol has cooked out and the liquid has a thick, syrupy consistency.
Add the beef stock, chicken stock, and bouquet garni, bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Meanwhile, if you have a grill, brush the bread with a little olive oil and rub with a clove of garlic. Lay the bread on the hot grill to char it. If no grill is available, arrange the sliced bread onto a baking sheet.
Remove the roasted garlic from the oven. Squeeze the halved heads of garlic from the root end into a bowl.
Mash the roasted cloves with a fork. Incorporate the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix well.
Spread the roasted garlic mixture into thin layers on top of the bruschetta/crostini, then place in the oven under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese has completely melted and the spread is bubbling.
Remove the crostini to cool.
After about 50 minutes of simmering, when the soup has reduced slightly, remove and discard the bouquet garni.
Add the brandy, the remaining thyme leaves, and the cracked pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes.
Ladle the soup into soup crocks, place a few bruschetta/crostini in each, then cover with 2-3 slices of Fontina and dust with smoked paprika if desired.
Place the crocks under a broiler until bubbling and well browned.
Pour a glass of the rest of the Amarone and enjoy with the soup. Perfect for the chilly fall nights that are coming. Stock up on firewood!