Soup’s on!

I don’t know about you, but when I go out to eat I almost never get soup. It can harbor gluten in lots of things that may not be mentioned in a description, pasta, roux, barley, and who knows what else. This is a drag, but a menu description is not a list of ingredients, and asking your server may or may not get you useful information. One part of my job is to make soup, every day we have a soup of the day as well as our house vegetable soup.

How do I come up with soups?  There are two ways.  First, I’ll go through cookbooks, and find things that I can easily expand to meet the requirements I have as far as quantity, and durability.  Now, you might be wondering, “durability??”  Certain things in a soup may cause it to change over time.  Pasta, beans, and barley will all absorb lots of liquid over time.  Obviously barley is not an issue for us, but beans and  gluten-free pasta (I have not made a soup with gf pasta yet, so I don’t really know what any of the various types would do.) could be.  Some things may not look quite as pretty after they sit in a  hot bain-marie for several hours.

The second way I come up with soups is to wander through the various coolers, and freezers looking for something that strikes my fancy, and looks like it needs to go away.  Sometimes, I can just sort of claim things as they sit in a hotbox at the end of a buffet.  The other day I grabbed a large-ish container of buttered new potatoes.  Or a while back I grabbed a five pound piece of pork loin to make posolé with (that ended up going somewhere else, but that happens).

My goal (at work) is just to make soup that happens to be gluten-free, rather than screwing with things that are not gluten-free to make them be gluten-free just so I can eat them. Some things are just not gluten-free, and I just don’t eat them or even taste them.  I grab somebody to be the taste-test-dummy, usually its the sous chef.  He understands my situation, and is fine with tasting things for me.  Sometimes if I’m not sure I’ll grab him to taste things that are gf just because I want a second opinion.

Ok, so on to the soup.  Today we’re going to make onion soup, but rather than the traditional French Onion soup that we all loved, we’re going to make an Italian version.  I eat this with just a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese on top rather than the crouton with melted cheese.

There is a recipe, in a book that I looked at, and promptly disregarded, except for the general idea behind it.  You may need to tweak these quantities as you go.  I’m not making this soup right now.  The last batch I made was roughly three gallons.

What you need:

  • 1/2 cup Pancetta  chopped
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 quart thinly sliced onions
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes (Italian plum tomatoes would be fantastic here)
  • splash of white wine
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • herbes de provence to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Asiago for serving

First cut up the onions.  Cut off the top and bottom, slice in half from end to end and peel it and then lay it cut side down and slice from top to bottom.  The trick to slicing an onion with out crying is to make sure that you have a very sharp knife.  That is it.  The sharper the knife the less damage it does as it cuts.  The fewer cells of the onion you disrupt the less of the chemicals that irritate your eyes are released.  There are several enzymes, and chemical reactions that go on, but the end result is tears.  Sharper knife, less damage, less chemical reaction, fewer tears!

Next chop the pancetta into small pieces.  You’re done with the prep!

Over medium heat, heat the oil in a large pot, and then add the butter.  Once it has melted, and stopped foaming, add the pancetta.  Reduce the heat, and let the pancetta render.  Pancetta is very similar to bacon, but is not smoked.  Once the fat has rendered out of the pancetta, you will see some brown on the bottom of the pot.  Don’t worry about that.  Add the onions, and the sugar.  You want to start caramelizing the onions, so leave them alone for a bit.  Stir every few minutes, get everything caramelized.  This will probably take some time, so relax.  Give it time.  Once the onions are golden brown you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Add the tomatoes, stir them in, and add the wine.  Let the liquid reduce for a few minutes, and then add the stock, and season with salt and pepper, and the herbes de provence.   Remember to taste it now, and adjust the seasoning to your taste.  Simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, and serve to your amazed and appreciative family and friends in warm bowls with a sprinkle of the grated Asiago cheese on top.

This soup is all about the onions, just like the beloved old French Onion soup we all grew up with, but much more three dimensional.  You won’t even miss the crouton!

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