Savannah and icicles just don’t fit into the same sentence easily, but as the picture to the left attests, that did happen on the world-famous fountain in Forsyth Park. We have just emerged from the longest spell of freezing nights in all my years as the innkeeper here. Winter garb is non-existent in my wardrobe so I found keeping warm a challenge – a windbreaker and the scarf my daughter-in-law, Kelley, knit for me three years ago, a pair of gloves with a hole in one finger, and socks. As a former New Englander turned Southern Innkeeper, these chilly days were hearkening me back to the food of my youth and memories of my mom, who could take anything in the frig and turn it into a hearty meal for ten, with leftovers!
So, a week or so ago, after checking the last guest out on a Sunday and not having any one checking in that day, I thought about warming my chilled bones with soup. A rummage through the inn’s frig and freezer produced two bags of frozen prime ribs bones (four sections of 3 bones each), 6 withered carrots, one rutabaga, 4 pounds of yellow onions, about 6 garlic heads and, of course, lots of wine. On the pantry shelf I found chicken broth, dried thyme, bay leaves, oregano and cloves. A trek down to the underbelly of the inn (the basement) yielded two deep stock pots. Beef onion soup and a sort of beef burgundy stew were ruminating around the back corners of my mind.
Into each pot I placed 6 bones, 6 cups of water, 5 cloves of garlic and some chopped onion that was languishing in the vegetable drawer and turned the heat up to bring to a boil. Meanwhile, I began chopping the carrots in a small dice while bacon rendered in the sauté pan. Pulled the bacon out when brown and threw in the carrots and two small sliced onions and a couple more cloves of garlic. While that browned out I finished dicing the rutabaga and occasionally reached over to stir the bone soup.
Now mind you, in between this I was running the inn, you know, answering phones, making reservations, planning the menu for the week, so this took longer than it might take you! Luckily, nothing is time-critical, making it ideal for a busy woman (or man) to complete while multi-tasking!
I browned the rutabagas and added that to the carrot/onion/garlic mixture and let that continue to brown. Meanwhile I sliced the remaining 3 pounds of onions pole to pole and into ¼-inch slices and preheated the oven to 400 with the oven rack in the lower-middle position. I poured a bit of olive oil onto the bottom of a Dutch oven and then sprayed the sides a bit with non-stick spray. In went the onions and a teaspoon of salt, on went the lid and into the oven for about an hour.
Back to the two broths simmering on the stove: they are reduced in volume by more than half. I added leftover pinot noir to the stew (about 2 cups) and added chicken broth to the onion soup (about the same amount) and continued to simmer. When reduced again, I stuck them both in the freezer so I could de-fat them prior to mixing in everything else. Once defatted, pull the meat from the bones, pick out tendons and fat and discard.
I mixed in ½ can tomato paste into the browned rutabaga/carrot mixture and cooked for about 2 minutes. I pulled the onions out of the oven, stirred and scraped them off the sides and bottom of the pot and put back into the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continued to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
The carrot/rutabaga/tomato paste mixture was stirred into wine-beef stock and then added chicken broth (as needed) to keep it between a soup and a stew consistency. Next I added some soy (2 teaspoons), more wine (1 cup), and bay leaves (3). Continue to cook down adding broth as needed. When the flavor is very concentrated, add enough broth to bring it to a soupy consistency, then add the tapioca (3 tablespoons) and continue to cook. At this point you can freeze the mixture or have it for dinner in bowls with crusty bread, or over noodles, or?
The beef onion soup needs finishing. I removed the pot of onions from oven and placed over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, I cooked onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporated and onions browned, 15 to 20 minutes. I continued to cook them down until pot bottom was coated with a dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.) I stirred in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cooked until water evaporates and the pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
The onions go into the plain beef broth, and added some more chicken broth, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Toast some French bread slices. Pour soup into a bowl and top with two slices of toasted bread, sprinkle with Swiss cheese and broil till cheese is bubbly. Divine. Next time, maybe I will remember to take a picture just before we ate every sip in sight!