So when is French Onion Soup not French Onion Soup? When it’s ITALIAN! For those of you who subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll remember my sort of snarky little history lesson on French Onion Soup – and how it’s really not so… well… French! Indeed – according to history, it is not! ITALIAN ONION SOUP, or CARABACCIA, is a very old Tuscan dish that dates back a few centuries.
I was reminded recently by my friend, Tracey, who travels a lot, of how the dish whether French or Italian can be so badly mangled. She described the French Onion Soup she ordered and so anticipated on a business trip recently. When the soup arrived there were NO onions in it – just a beefy broth with the obligatory cheese and bread. How very disappointing—really!
It was then that I decided that the newsletter article just wasn’t enough, and that I must delve further and more deeply into this ITALIAN ONION SOUP (or Tuscan Onion soup) thing to show how the Italians handle it. And, NO – they most certainly do NOT leave out the onions.
The skinny: OK – for those of you who have not yet subscribed to the Linda’s Italian Table newsletter, where I serve as your personal informant on things Italian, you are missing out on these little tidbits and snippets of Italian inside info and should run now to the website and subscribe. Here is the link: SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER .These little nuggets don’t usually land on the blog. However, for today, I’ll clue you in on what newsletter subscribers already know. That is, French Onion Soup was not always French and was introduced to the French by none other than Catherine de Medici at the ripe old age of 14, when she married Henry II of France. Apparently she brought her well equipped Tuscan chefs with her to France and also taught the French the use of the fork. (Funny – I thought the French knew everything.) During medieval times, and also during Catherine’s era, the dish was much sweeter than the present day version and has changed over centuries.
The Tuscan Way: The Tuscans, just like my mother, Loretta, were fond of putting a thick slice of crusty bread in the bottom of a bowl and pouring soup over it. The cheese, of course, was Parmigiano-Reggiano – grated and piled high on the top only to be every so slightly scorched just before serving. The traditional onions used were the Tuscan Reds from Certaldo, a town that is remains in part medieval and walled to this day.Those Tuscans definitely cornered the market on this amazing soup.
La Carabaccia: There are differing opinions on what the word “carabaccia” actually means. Some say it is a small boat. Wouldn’t you know – there is even a restaurant in Florence called: Trattoria La Carabaccia! You might enjoy checking out the site, as there is a history to this restaurant and it is a really distinctive place, with its low domed or rounded ceilings ( kind of like the Lobster Bar in Atlanta, Ga. for those who have been there and can relate). It dates back to the 17th c., and the tiles and crests that line the walls are those belonging to the some of the oldest families of Florence. Visiting this place is a “must” for my bucket list.
What makes this different for me is that instead of the expected beef broth flavor of the soup en francais, the Italian has much more flavor and spiciness. The spice is subtle but really draws you into the experience making you crave more. The Italian use of Parmigiano-Reggiano is just perfection with these flavors and of course with the addition of the red wine to the recipe.
You’ll find several different ways to make this soup, but this is the way I make it. I take comfort in its rustic nature and joy in its robust flavor. Hope you will soon succumb to its charms.
Tuscan Onion Soup
Prep and Cook: About 90 min.
2 1/2 lb. Large Red Onions (About 3 Large)
3 Tbsp. Butter
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 c. Red wine like Valpolicella or Chianti
2 Tsp. Honey
1 Cinnamon Stick
2 Whole Cloves
1 Bay Leaf
5 1/2 c. Beef stock or broth
Salt and pepper to taste ( I usually use about 2 tsp Kosher Salt)
Crusty Italian bread or Ciabatta
Coarsely Grated Parmigiano –Reggiano Cheese (about 1/2 c. per bowl)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling before serving
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Peel and slice the red onions.
Cook your sliced onions in the butter and oil at medium to med. high heat until onions are caramelized and begin to brown. This takes about 30 minutes. Stir them occasionally so they do not burn.
Add the wine, honey, cinnamon stick, cloves and bay leaf. Cook about 3 min. more, stirring.
Add the stock. Bring to boil and then reduce the heat to simmer about 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper to taste – add enough salt to bring up the flavor.
When finished, fish out the bay leaf & cinnamon stick, and discard. If you can fish out the cloves also – it’s a good idea.
Brush slices of bread with Olive Oil and toast under broiler .
Place a thick slice into each heatproof bowl.
Pour the soup into the bowls.
Heap about 1/2 c. Parmigiano- Reggiano over the top and place under the broiler until browned and bubbly.
Drizzle each serving with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
To Serve: I like to serve my CARABACCIA or ITALIAN ONION SOUP with the same red wine that I use in the soup – like a beautiful Valpolicella or a Chianti Classico. This is great on a cold night – fire – aroma – wine – sigh - you get the idea…
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography