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Sweet Onion Soup with Goat Cheese Croutons

Posted Mar 19 2008 4:49pm

Thousands of poets have sung the praises of the rose, but as far as I know, only Robert Louis Stevenson has eulogized the onion in verse. In “To a Gardener,” he writes:

First let the onion flourish there,
Rose among roots, the maiden fair
Wine-scented and poetic soul
Of the capacious salad bowl.

Moved by the same sentiments—and the 4 pound bag of marked-down Vidalia onions I threw into the shopping cart on Sunday—I decided to pay homage to onions today, sweet onions in particular.

Sweet onions are just that, in more ways than one. Their thin translucent wrappings shed to reveal fragrant, full-bodied flavor and sweetness for a few coins more than ordinary onions and their versatility extends far beyond humdrum hamburger garnish. Given the opportunity, they can star in everything from starters, to soups to salads, and, because their flavor is milder and sweeter than ordinary white and yellow onions, they perform beautifully in supporting roles for chutneys, fresh relishes, entrees and pickles, too.

Incorporating sweet onions into new and favorite recipes requires little imagination. Buy one, chop or slice it up and start sprinkling. Beyond salads, try adding a few chopped tablespoons to bolster purchased salsa, stir them into broth-based vegetable and chicken soups, or make a quick pasta of linguine, sweet onions sautéed in a bit of olive oil, shredded rotisserie chicken, and a sprinkle of herbs and Parmesan cheese.My sweet onion soup with goat cheese croutons, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, represents the triumph of hope over experience. One afternoon, I began making an onion soup recipe to use up some of the bits and pieces I had in my pantry and refrigerator. I didn’t have the white wine called for in the recipe, so I substituted red wine. The bell pepper looked lonely so I chopped more onions. When I discovered mold on the Swiss cheese, I chucked it and used goat cheese instead (spread over large croutons made from the remains of a baguette—I always found the traditional broiled cheese topping hard to eat, anyway).

And on it went. Even though the finished product looked nothing like traditional French onion soup, my dining partners paid the ultimate compliment: they ate it all before I could save enough for the next day’s lunch.

The only time-consuming part of the dish is the caramelizing of the onions, which takes about 25-30 minutes. But so long as I keep the heat at medium (not too high), I find that one stir every 5 minutes or so is plenty. I made the soup early this afternoon and was able to cook the onions while I simultaneously played with Nick on the opposite side of the kitchen (I had to get up every few minutes or so, anyway, to wipe up the trails of milk between the baskets of blocks and toys). In short, no hovering above the stove needed.

Caramelized Onion Soup with Red Wine & Goat Cheese Croutons

Sweet onions are found adjacent to ordinary onions in the supermarket. Buy onions that feel hard, free of soft spots and with no trace of sprouting. Store them in a cool, dark and airy place. Once peeled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Sweet onions, like other onions, will keep for weeks without refrigeration, making them handy for added bursts of flavor to plenty of spur-of-the moment cooking.

This is the perfect thing for lunch, but a little bit light for me for dinner on a typical night (especially a post-exercise night like tonight); we had some rotisserie chicken and arugula on the side.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 and 1/2 pounds sweet onions (any variety—I prefer Vidalia), trimmed and very thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided use
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 and 1/2 cups red wine
1 4-ounce package soft mild goat cheese, room temperature (for easier spreading)
6 medium-size slices French bread, toasted

Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onions and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Add garlic, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the thyme and cook for 1 minute; add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and wine; cover and cook over low heat, for 25 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt & pepper.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Spread cheese onto bread, sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, and place on large baking sheet. Broil 1-2 minutes or until bubbling and golden. Ladle soup into deep bowls and top with a cheese crouton. Makes 6 servings

Nutrition per Serving (1 bowl and 1 crouton):
Calories 280; Fat 10.9g (sat 5.1g, mono 4.1g, poly 1.2g); Protein 13.4g; Cholesterol 19.4mg; Carbohydrate 26.6g; Sodium 599.7mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)

Nutrition Notes for Onions
Onions are loaded with nutrition. Specifically, they are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and folic acid, and a good source of calcium and iron. Well worth crying over!

Onions also contain quercetin, a flavonoid (a type of antioxidant; antioxidants are compounds that help delay or slow the oxidative damage to cells and tissue of the body). Studies indicate that quercetin helps to eliminate free radicals in the body, to inhibit low-density lipoprotein oxidation (an important reaction in the atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease), to protect and regenerate vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) and to inactivate the harmful effects of chelate metal ions. Other dietary sources of quercetin include tea and apples.

In addition to quercetin, onions contain the phytochemicals known as disulfides, trisulfides, cepaene, and vinyl dithiins. These compounds have a variety of health-functional properties, including anticancer and antimicrobial activities.
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