In Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days, American novelist James Salter writes:
“The meal is the essential act of life: it is the habitual ceremony, the long record of marriage, the school for behavior, the prelude to love. Among all peoples and in all times, every significant event in life – be it wedding, triumph, or birth – is marked by a meal or the sharing of food or drink. The meal is the emblem of civilization. What would one know of life as it should be lived or nights as they should be spent apart from meals?”
This quote could have easily been attributed to Julia Child*, the epitome of one who never lived apart from meals and who received a great amount of joy and pleasure from cooking – and eating! As she once said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
An enthusiastic, charismatic advocate of French cooking, who exposed the world to the sophisticated art of cooking in France, one might even argue that she was the inspiration behind the globalization of the culinary world, leading us to where we are today with cross-cultural cooking found in “fusion” dishes.
Indeed, in the past decade there has been an abundance of new cookbooks – so many of which are tantalizingly marketed – found not solely in book and cooking stores, but in gift shops, home accessory shops, and even clothing stores, such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters.
With such a copious amount to choose from, it can be difficult to discern the exceptional, quality cookbooks from the “good” or mediocre ones. However, My Paris Kitchen (2014) by David Leibovitz** is among the former, filled with beautiful pictures, interesting stories and tidbits of information about Paris*** and the French culture, alongside practical recipes that any cook can successfully replicate.
Named one of the “Best Cookbooks of the Year” by Amazon, Mr. Leibovitz’s cookbook embodies his belief that baking and cooking shouldn’t “be out of reach to people” and that cookbooks should “strive to share recipes that are do-able for a majority of cooks and home bakers.”
And so, in honor of Julia Child and with admiration for Mr. Leibovtiz, we’ve included below two recipes for a classic, delicious French dish: Soupe a l’Oignon (French Onion Soup). One is from My Paris Kitchen, and the other is one of ATG’s very own. While they are similar in nature, they both have their unique features (one is made with chicken stock, the other with beef stock) and we invite you to use one or the other, or a combination of both! As Mr. Leibovitz would say, “au pif” – a French phrase he learned after cooking with French friends which means to cook “by feel.” In other words, to “trust our own instincts” and “think for ourselves” instead of being “dependent on recipes to tell us each and every detail.”
*Of interest: For a great resource on food and drink, we highly recommend checking out Kitchen Arts & Letters’ website here. A NYC bookstore specializing in food and drink, it has more than 12,000 titles in stock from all around the world. They even track down out-of-print books.
Julia Child and James Beard were among its early customers when it opened in 1983, and today customers include Michelin three-star chefs from around the world, as well as “neighborhood home cooks who want to put a good dinner on the table.”
Among their list of bestselling books for 2014? My Paris Kitchen! They even feature the book Liquid Intelligence, which we previously profiled here.
And for their list of books that makes gift giving that much simpler – for both beginner cooks and professional chefs – see here.
**David Leibovtiz has worked in restaurants since the age of sixteen and spent much of his life as a professional cook and baker. He has been named among the Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle. You can visit his website here.
***Visiting Paris or want to travel there one day? Check out David Leibovitz’s list of some of the best breakfast, lunch and dinner spots in Paris, in addition to his favorite dining and travel guides.
My Paris Kitchen’s Soupe a l’Oignon
4 tbsp. (2 ounces/55g) unsalted butter
2 ½ pounds (1.2 kg) yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 tsp. granulated sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt, plus more if needed
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
¾ cup (180ml) white wine or sherry
2 quarts (2l) chicken stock
1-2 tsp. sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed
6 thick slices hearty white bread, or about 18 thick-sliced pieces of baguette, well toasted
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, for rubbing the toast
3 cups (255g) grated Emmenthal, Comté or Gruyère cheese
- Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for 1 ½ hours, stirring less frequently and decreasing the heat to avoid burning as the onions continue to cook down. (You may wish to use a flame diffuser if your cooktop doesn’t allow low enough heat.) As the onions cook, if they brown on the bottom of the pan in places, use a spatula to scrape those appetizing brown bits into the onions because they’ll add flavor. The onions are done when they have collapsed into a thick amber-brown paste.
- Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and use a flat utensil to loosen any remaining brown bits from the bottom and sides of he pan, stirring them into the onions. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, tasting it to get the balance right, adding a touch more vinegar, salt, and pepper, if desired.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set six ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- Divide the hot soup among the bowls. Rub both sides of the toasted bred with the garlic. Put the toasts on the soup, then sprinkle the tops with the cheese. Bake the soup on the upper rack of the oven until the cheese is deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if the bowls can withstand the heat, you can set the cheese-topped soups under a hot boiler, cooking them until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve immediately.
ATG’s Soupe a l’Oignon
4 large onions, thinly sliced (we use Spanish or white or a mixture)
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
6 cups of beef broth (we use Kitchen Basics) heated
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice of French bread
Couple of garlic cloves
2 tbsp. Cognac
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
Cook onions slowly with butter and oil in covered pot for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and increase heat to moderate. Add sugar to onions and stir frequently for about 15-20 minutes or until onions turn golden brown. Sprinkle onions with flour and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in heated beef broth and wine and adjust seasonings. Stir in cognac. Simmer partially covered for about an hour.
When serving, place bread slices in 350 F oven until lightly toasted, turn over to toast the other side, and then remove and baste bread with olive oil. Rub garlic cloves on each slice (a lot or a little). Put soup in ovenproof bowls and sprinkle with a little cheese, put bread on top of cheese and then finish with the remaining cheese on top of bread.
Bake in 350-375 degree F oven until hot and bubbling. If you want, you can put it under the broiler for a bit to finish.
Hungry for a snack?
“The big story in exercise science in 2014 was the super-short workout.” Scientists call the condensed sessions “exercise snacks.” For a good synopsis of the ongoing scientific journey of human weight management and a reminder of how good exercise is for our brains, check out New York Times‘ “condensed” article, “A Year of Workouts, Condensed” by Gretchen Reynolds.
3 thoughts on “Cooking “Au Pif””
Definitely adding these to my recipe-to-do list!
One of my favorites from the kitchen of ATG’s Jennifer Rose!
This looks DELICIOUS. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to cook more often. Maybe I’ll start with this! It certainly beats Trader Joe’s frozen Chicken Tikka Masala any day.