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Recipe Wed Nov 14 2012

Cinnamon Soup? Yes.

SoupandBread.jpgI had the pleasure and joy of making four gallons of soup and then dishing it up to people at Garfield Park Conservatory for a fantastic Soup & Bread event. About a dozen other cooks (many of whom are legit chefs) and I were given an ingredient that grows in the park and we created a soup using that as the main flavoring ingredient. Mine, thanks to the irony of all awesomeness, was cinnamon. So I set out on a wild internet adventure to discover a cinnamon soup recipe.

I came across this on a blog post:

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 . . . During medieval times, and also during Catherine's era, the dish was much sweeter than the present day version and has changed over centuries.

Which got me to thinking: Just how do they know the original soup was sweeter?

So I Googled and found out that one of the cooks who Catherine de Medici brought with her to France wrote a cookbook, and thanks to Google Books I was able to find it. The book is of course in Italian, but thanks to the extra wondrous Google Translator, I was able to locate recipes that included the ingredient cinnamon when I came across a dish that was decidedly not a dessert. I was delighted to discover it was a soup.

So I did what any good cook named Cinnamon would do. I translated the recipe into English and laughed at all of the bizarre translation errors until I came up with the recipe that follows.

And then I made the recipe. And it was good. Decidedly sweeter than most soups I usually eat. But also decidedly pleasant. As someone who enjoys a few hearty bites of French onion soup and not usually more, I found this soup to be delightfully rich and best served in small amounts. The texture (after straining) is thicker and heartier than you would originally expect. The white color of the soup is unexpected and yet appealing.

I learned that the almonds and the cinnamon would have made this dish outrageously expensive and unaffordable for any but royalty.

While Catherine did likely introduce the fork to France, it is undetermined if she introduced the soup that became their namesake. Onions would have been very plentiful to peasants since they're so easy to grow, even in rocky and poor soil. However, this soup is far more luxurious in texture and flavor than French onion soup. So perhaps this was the soup that encouraged Escoffier to elevate the poor peasant onion soup to the delightful French Onion Soup we know and love today.

Renaissance Onion Soup
7 ounces almonds
2 quarts chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt
1 large or 2 small cinnamon sticks
toasted bread for serving
ground cinnamon and powdered sugar for garnish

Place the almonds and 2 cups of chicken broth in a small saucepan. Bring the almonds up to a boil over medium-high heat. Let them cook for 2-3 minutes uncovered. Remove from the heat and let cool.

While the almonds are blanching, peel the onions and slice them very thinly. A food processor or mandolin is very helpful with this step. Once the onions are sliced, place them in a heavy-bottom stockpot or Dutch oven. Pour the olive oil over the onions and add about 1/2 teaspoon of table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt. Stir everything, cover the pot, and place it over a medium-low flame until you begin to hear sizzling.

Reduce the heat to low, keep covered, and let cook for 45 minutes. Stir frequently. If the mixture begins to look dry, add a little water to the pot. The goal is to slowly sweat the onions, not brown them.

While the onions cook, you can pull the almonds out of the broth and pinch the skin to peel it off. Discard the skins and place the almonds in a food processor or blender. Reserve the broth. Once all of the almonds are peeled, puree them for several minutes until they're very finely ground. Add some of the reserved chicken broth to the food processor to purée until the mixture is as smooth as possible.

Once the onions have cooked for 45 minutes, add the chicken broth, almond puree, and the cinnamon sticks. Let it cook over medium low while uncovered for 30-45 minutes. Stir it frequently to prevent any browning or sticking.

Discard the cinnamon sticks and purée the soup in a blender until as smooth as possible. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over the stockpot. Let the soup drain slowly through the mesh. Remove as much of the liquid as possible from the strainer, and slowly heat the soup to a warm serving temperature. Be careful not to boil it, or the almonds will release their oil and cause the soup to break.

Place a piece of toasted bread in your bowl, pour the soup over the bread, sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon and powdered sugar and eat a soup fit for a queen.

I'm delighted to say that I received many compliments on this soup. I used vegetable broth in the version I made for the event which made this rich, creamy soup vegan and gluten-free. It was delightful to watch people's eyebrows shoot up in surprise after their first bite. "Oh, wow. That is so much better than I expected. Weird, but so good." And it was good enough that I dished out 4 gallons of soup, 4 ounces at a time, in less than 1.5 hours.

 

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Beer Mon Apr 28 2014

Craft Beer, Community and Creativity: An Interview with Locally Brewed Author Anna Blessing

By Christina Brandon

In the introduction to Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America's Heartland, author and photographer Anna Blessing writes that she wants "to tell the story of the people behind the beer."
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