Thursday, March 28, 2013

Caramelized Shallot Soup with Parmesean Croutons

This is a case of "when life hands you shallots"....

And when I say shallots, I mean mountains of them.  I love my CSA, but since I don't get to pick the produce that goes in your box it can sometimes be a challenge to manage what comes to me each week.  Trust me, I know how lucky I am to be able to get the organic produce that I get all year long, so this is certainly NOT a complaint.  Just an observation.  For example, had I been able to choose what I get, I would have realized that the first pile of shallots I got a few weeks ago would have been enough to sustain us for quite a while.  I would not have chosen to get more the next week.  Or the next.  But I'm at the mercy of the farmers, so the pile of shallots just kept on growing in my pantry.
At some point I realized that I was not going to be able to use up these shallots by occasionally adding one to my favorite chicken salad or vinaigrette.  So what do you do when you've got a mountain of shallots that need to be used?  Make soup!  French onion is one of my favorites and, in my opinion, one of the ways to tell a really good restaurant from just a decent one.  So I set out to turn my proverbial lemons into lemonade and began the slightly painful process of peeling and slicing.  I didn't have all the necessary ingredients on hand so I improvised.  And in the end I managed to take down that mountain of shallots and make a darn good soup.  I gotta say, I like my version.  A lot.
Caramelized Shallot Soup with Parmesean Croutons
Serves 4-6 people. 
For a printable version, click here.

This is a very simple soup to prepare.  But it does take a bit of time to really get the shallots well caramelized.  I'd say you need about an hour and a half between the prep time (there's a lot of slicing!) and cooking.  I've added herbs de Provence to the soup, which is a bit unconventional, but it's my nod to the French and adds a nice background flavor.  If you don't have any, you could certainly use a bit more fresh thyme or even a tiny bit of rosemary.  The shot of soy sauce at the end is a trick I learned from Cooks Illustrated to give the soup a bit of depth and that elusive umami flavor that it would be lacking otherwise.  I promise it won't taste like chinese food.

6 cups sliced shallots (about 12-14 large shallots)
2 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs chopped garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup light wheat beer (such as a white wheat or even a hefewiezen)
4 cups good chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
2 tsp herbs de Provence
1 tsp salt
pich black pepper
1 tbs low sodium soy sauce

5 slices good country white bread or ciabatta, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded or shaved parmesean cheese

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, over medium heat until they are very soft and turn a medium golden color.  Add the thyme sprigs and the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute more.  Pour in the beer and stir, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Allow the beer to simmer until it is reduced by half, another 3-5 minutes.  Add the broth, soy sauce, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper and stir.  Simmer the soup, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  On a baking sheet, toss the bread cubes and butter.  Sprinkle the cubes with half of the parmesean.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the croutons until lightly browned and the cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes.  Toss the croutons on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Return to the oven and continue baking until the cheese is golden and bubbly, another few minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside until the soup is ready.

Remove the thyme sprigs from the soup at the end of the 30 minutes.  Serve in warmed soup bowls topped with a handful of croutons.

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