The hidden elegance of onion soup – Italian Cuisine


Let's discover the many variations – geographical, historical and gastronomic – of a legendary dish, a little rustic and a little noble. Loved by many, it is rich in taste, simple and evocative


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One of the fundamentals of comfort food is “niente nourishes the soul as a soup". And the onion soup meets all the requirements of a comfort dish: hot, hearty, tasty and fragrant, it has a history as rich as its taste.

Ancient folk roots
ORoriginally it was consideredto food from poor: simple to do (onions were plentiful and economic, easy to grow and simple to store), soupy and hot, with the addition of a few pieces of stale bread it represented a substantial and cheap meal. All characteristics that made it popular already in Roman times and that facilitated its spread throughout the Middle Ages, when various variations of this soup took hold on the Continent. The discovery of America saw onion soup land also overseas, as they demonstrate the first texts of British and American colonial cuisine who always mention it. Curiously, it is absent unjustified itlla Culinary guide by Escoffier (1903).

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From food for laborers to Julia Child
There most famous of all, the French soupe to the oignon with the classic topping of bread and cheese, has its roots neitherthe sopsmedieval, where the daily meal of the poor classes which consisted of vegetable broth poured over pieces of bread: la recipe we know today based on caramelized onions in a rich beef brothit is a direct descendant of the modern French broth made in the 17th century.
In Paris, until the 1970s, onion soup – "reinforced" with the pig's foot in the broth and small pieces of meat between the onions – was the dish with which the night owls and dockers of the Halles, the markets, refreshed themselves at dawn general. In fact, it seems that the all-French touch of gratin with cheese is due to the restaurateurs of the Les Halles district, transforming it into the universally known Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée des Halles or simply Gratinée des Halles, calorie food for the unloaders of the market and, it is said, hangover cure-all for the viveur come out of the Parisian cabarets.
In the 1960s, with the arrival at the White House of the Kennedys – lovers of French cuisine – and with the enormous success of Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' cookbook, the soupe to the oignon it enjoyed renewed interest from Americans who, perhaps unaware of its humble origins, elevated it to an extremely chic dish.

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French or English?
Here the difference is made by the ingredients. Both French and English onion soup use slow cooker caramelized onions and a broth base, and both feature a hearty slice of crusty bread and lots of melted cheese. However, the French version always wants beef broth, baguette and Swiss cheese, Emmental or gruyere. For the English version, any type of broth (beef, chicken or vegetables) is fine, with any rustic bread, but the cheese is the very same Cheddar. French onion soup specifies coppery onions (sometimes red, often with added potatoes), while English onion soup requires a combination of white and red onions, scallions and leeks – Jamie Oliver encourages "getting as many different types of onions as possible. be possible ”for his onion soup recipe. Most French soups will also use sherry, red wine or, in Julia Child's case, Cognac to flavor. Sometimes, English onion soup recipes include Worcestershire sauce. Both versions are scented with aromatic herbs, thyme in French and sage in English. To remain within the Anglo-Saxon context, there is also one Irish version, whether in the form of soup – with garlic and Guinness Extra Stout (added to caramelized onions, before pouring the meat broth), Cheddar or Dubliner cheese – both in cream, with the addition of cream, a little mustard and apple juice.

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To Tuscany …
Known as carabaccia, this Florentine onion soup has ancient origins: its name derives from the Greek karabos, a term that means shell, concave container, arriving at the phrase "carabazada" (literally soup tureen), a name coined by Cristoforo Da Messiburgo, director of the canteen at the Este Court of Ferrara, in his recipe book "New book in which we teach how to make all sorts of food"In the sixteenth century. The original recipe for this onion soup, which apparently was a favorite of Leonardo da Vinci, included, in addition to the Certaldo red onion, also almonds, vinegar of agresto (vinegar made from sour grapes), cinnamon and sugar. Today the carabaccia is prepared in a modern version, where the white and red onions are soaked for a night in water and vinegar (so that they lose their pungent smell), stewed and served with toast and plenty of cheese melted in the oven ( parmesan and sweet provola). Fluid but not soupy, the carabaccia in some of its variants sees the addition of peas or broad beans, and / or eggs. It is said that, when in 1533 Caterina de 'Medici brought an army of cooks with her to France to prepare the Tuscan dishes she loved, among these there was the carabaccia which, as soon as it was imported from beyond the Alps, was immediately transformed into the very classic soupe à l'oignon.

… And Neapolitan style
The perhaps little known Neapolitan onion soup finds its identity in the use of local and particular ingredients such as the Ramata di Montoro onion, a typical product of the provinces of Avellino and Salerno with a sweet and aromatic taste. The Neapolitan version of the soup also wants cherry tomatoes, possibly Piennolo del Vesuvio; sometimes pieces of bacon are also cooked with onions and, to finish, in the last few minutes a few eggs are shelled directly into the boiling soup, cooking it poached.

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The magic of onion soup is in the air, as is its characteristic scent. If your mouth is watering, as it has come to us, here are a couple of ideas to satisfy it immediately, from soupe à l'oignon au gratin to the unusual version with pecorino.

Bon appétit!

Francesca Tagliabue

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Posted on 29/01/2022


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