Several months ago I whipped up an amazingly rich and decadent bacon, onion, and gruyere tart from one of my favorite fancy-cooking cookbooks. Sheets of puff pastry topped with a cheese-laced bechamel sauce, crispy lardons of bacon, onions that had turned sweet and melting in the heat. It was gooey and buttery and flakey .The kind of appetizer that leaves behind a tablecloth full of crumbs and leads to several fingers stuck in the serving dish, to scrape up whatever’s left behind. But when I say “whipped up” I’m being a bit generous. It was more a labor of love than a quick-and-easy pre-dinner bite. That, plus the fact that the tart is best enjoyed in 2-3 bite increments, led me to look for an alternative way to get my fix. It became a soup.
Jeff and I have some disagreements about soup. He’s a fan of the creamy variety where everything has been pureed into a soft and velvety sip-able concoction (not unlike this). I’m ok with that kind of soup, but I prefer the kind with “things” – chewable, I like to call them. That’s what kind of soup this is, one with bit and pieces to chew in between sipping the broth.
That tart may or may not ever make it back onto the table, despite it’s deliciousness and wow-factor, because of the fuss it needs. But the soup, studded with onions and bacon, acts as a fine stand-in and is by far the easier alternative. All those words people like me use for soups like this – lucious, luxurious, decadent – let’s pretend I used all of them here because they all certainly apply. Like any good soup, you can make a batch and heat it up throughout the week or use it to feed a crowd. Is it going to impress your friends? Maybe, maybe not; it’s certainly less photogenic than the recipe that inspired it. But when it comes to the task of making a meal that you can pull out of the fridge during the week, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Bacon, Onion, and Gruyere Soup
Makes about 6 servings for dinner with a light salad or 8 as an appetizer before your meal
I made this soup the way I like it: with lots of bits and pieces in it. But if you, like Jeff, prefer a more uniform version, simply blend up everything except the bacon into a thick soup and then top each bowl with some bacon when you serve it.
Other things of note: I’ve made the soup with milk and half and half, both work well so use what you have or what your waistline can handle this week. If I’m making this on weekends I prefer to take the time to make a big batch of caramelized onions and then have extra. If it’s a weeknight I’ll just make a batch of cheater’s caramelized onions and call it a day.
6 slices of bacon (about a 1/2 lb), but into lardons
2 tbs reserved bacon fat*
1/4 cup white wine (optional)**
2 tbs flour
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 quart chicken stock (preferably homemade or low-sodium so you can control the salt content)
6 oz shredded gruyere (alternative cheeses include swiss, emmentaler, or even mozzerella which will melt beautifully even if the flavor it contributes isn’t particularly strong)
1/2 cup caramelized onions (that’s about equal to 3 onions)
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions, about 4 individual stalks
1 cup milk, half and half, or cream
1 1/2 tsp salt – or more to taste
Put a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook it for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until it’s crispy and the fat is mostly rendered out. You want the bacon to be pretty crisp, even if you normally like it with less crunch, because in the soup it will gain back a lot of moisture. Crisp bacon will turn chewy but already chewy bacon will get gummy.
When it’s brown and crispy, strain the bacon out of the and reserve at least 2 tablespoons of fat for later (you could save all of it, see *). Optional step: add the wine (or just use water) to the pan over low heat and scrape the bottom to get any of the brown bits that are stuck there. Once you’ve gotten up as much of that as you want, pour the liquid off into a small bowl and reserve it for later.***
In a large soup pot, add the bacon fat and flour over medium heat and whisk them together until the flour is coated in fat. Add the shallots and stir to coat them evenly with the flour mixture – this will prevent lumps when you add liquids. Cook the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes, until they’re a little softened but not quite translucent.
Add the stock and the reserved liquid to the pot and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it’s warm enough to melt cheese. Add the gruyere, – you can just add it all at once since the soup will simmer – caramelized onions, and scallions. Let it simmer for another 20 minutes or until the cheese is all melted and the soup is smooth. Add the half and half or milk and the salt and give the soup a taste. It might be salty enough but if it tastes a little boring, add a little more salt to bring up the flavor. At that point, you can simmer it a bit longer but if you do, keep the heat low. If you bring the dairy to a boil the proteins in it will cook which gives it a “curdled” look and mouth-feel. If you keep the heat low, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Serve it right away or keep it in the fridge for up to a week. If you do have leftovers, be careful when reheating them to make sure the soup doesn’t boil – it won’t be the end of the world but it’s just not as yummy.
*Yes, I save bacon fat for cooking with since the smoky flavor adds way more than canola oil ever could. If you’re not a huge fan of animal fats, simply substitute the oil of your choice.
** Jeff would say this is not optional since the wine is used to deglaze the pan you cooked the bacon in, i.e. to help scrape up all the browned bits. And I’ll admit adding that liquid with all the caramelized goodness from the bacon does add a little to the soup; I don’t know if it adds enough to really justify this extra step.*** You could just do this with water or just leave the step out entirely, I won’t tell Jeff.
***What this optional step does do is make it possible to cook this soup in one pot. Just cook the bacon in the soup pot, strain it out when it’s done. Use wine to scrape the bottom and pour that liquid off to the side too. Then put some bacon fat back in the soup pot and continue.