During the final years of their lives, my grandparents stopped cooking at home. They’d do little things, like make coffee and toast in the morning and heat up a can of soup for lunch. But dinner was always eaten at Little Pete’s, the restaurant across the street from their apartment building.
Each day at around 5:00 or 5:30, they’d don coats (no matter what the weather) and make their way over. The wait staff took great care of them, reserving my grandma’s preferred booth and depositing a glass of iced tea in front of her the moment she sat down.
When we’d go to visit them, these trips to Little’s Pete’s took on even more importance, because it was an opportunity for them to show my mom, sister and me off to the unofficial members of their de facto nightly dining club.
Over the years, I logged a lot of hours at Little Pete’s. My regular order was a cup of French onion soup and a Greek salad with extra olives. Truly, though, the salad was simply there so that I could justify eating a bowl of tangy broth, onions and bubbling-hot cheese.
The tenth anniversary of my grandmother’s death recently passed, so it just seemed right to make something in her honor. Though I ordered it more often than she did, I chose Ina Garten’s recipe for long-cooked French Onion Soup as a way of remembering all those meals. I took my time slicing onions and cooking them until golden. I think it may have been my most favorite Weekender yet.
Before you start slicing onions, here are a few things you should know:
– Two and a half pounds might seem like a lot of onions, but they sweat down and nearly dissolve into the soup, so don’t skimp.
– This recipe calls for sherry, brandy and white wine. If that’s too much booze for your budget, consider skipping one and making up the balance with more white wine or beef stock.
– Unlike the onion soups that so many of us are familiar with, Ina doesn’t have you float a crouton on top of the soup. I found it lighter and more refreshing that way, but if your family insists, you can pop a small toast round on top. I won’t tell.
– Though this soup is wonderful on the first day, it gets even better after overnighting in the fridge. If you’re serving it at a dinner party, consider cooking it up a day ahead.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in May 2012.