Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
Some dishes have such classic flavors that they can’t help but inspire new recipes. I love French onion soup, with its crispy croutons and melted cheese, but the flavors are so comforting and earthy that I've come up with a variety of ways to use the soup as a base. Transforming it into something completely new doesn’t require much work: Here, all I’ve done is reduce the soup down until it becomes a perfect sauce to accompany a simply prepared filet mignon.
The beauty of this is immediately evident: You get two meals out of one evening's work. Making the soup isn’t difficult, but it does take a while, so it’s a good candidate for a lazy weekend meal. For an even lazier endeavor, use the oven to start cooking down the onions without having to pay too much attention to them.
My one embellishment to this streamlined recipe was to roast some garlic to flavor the croutons, which do double duty topping off the soup and the steak. Once the elements of the soup are made, all you have to do is save some of each and, the next night, with the addition of a simple green salad, you have a bistro-style steak dinner that comes together in less than half an hour.
When choosing wines to pair with these meals, I had to consider a few components. The onions are earthy and savory, but also have a light sweetness from the caramelization. Gruyère can be nutty and also earthy, while thyme adds herbal hints to the mix. The steak, however, begs for a bigger wine than French onion soup might require on its own.
I chose to use oloroso Sherry in the soup for its nutty complexity, counting on it to add depth of flavor, as I was working with a limited number of ingredients. (You can certainly use another wine of your choice.) Although I thought those same complex flavors might make the Sherry a good match for the finished steak dish, I also selected a Syrah-based blend from France's Languedoc region and a ripe Primitivo from Puglia, Italy.
The Primitivo had a slightly baked, raisiny quality to its fruit that sometimes threatened to overpower the steak. The oloroso performed much as expected and amplified the flavor of the onions and the Gruyère. My only gripe was that, with its high alcohol content, this fortified wine felt a little heavy at times—a very good match, but one to be sipped more sparingly.
The Syrah blend deftly walked a tightrope: It had enough power to stand up to the meat, enough ripe fruit to handle the mild sweetness in the onions, and herbal and savory flavors that worked well with the thyme and piquant cheese. All the while, this red maintained enough acidity to refresh the palate, making for a seamless match.
Pair it with a Syrah-based blend such as Château d’Anglès Syrah-Grenache-Mourvèdre La Clape Classique 2012 (87 points, $18), from the Languedoc, in France.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total cooking time for soup: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Active time for soup: 50 minutes
Total cooking time for steak: 25 minutes
Approximate food costs for both meals: $55
For the French Onion Soup:
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Chop the top off the head of garlic. Sprinkle with salt and top with a small pat of butter (or olive oil if preferred). Wrap in tin foil and place packet on a baking sheet. Set aside.
3. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and stir well to coat. Add 1/4 cup of water to prevent the onions from cooking too rapidly. Place a lid on the pot, leaving it slightly ajar so there is a small opening.
4. Place both the pot of onions and the baking sheet with the garlic in the oven for about 40 minutes. Cook the onions until soft, stirring after about 20 minutes. Simultaneously, roast the garlic until the cloves become soft and lightly golden brown, then remove them from the oven and set aside to cool. Turn the oven down to 350° F.
5. Return the onions to the stovetop, removing the lid, and continue to cook them, over medium-high heat. Once the onions begin to brown, deglaze the pot with a bit of the oloroso Sherry. Repeat 2 to 3 times until the onions are a dark golden brown and the entire 1/2 cup of Sherry has been used, cooking approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
6. Sprinkle the minced garlic and flour over the onions, stir to combine, and cook for about a minute. Add the beef stock and 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme (reserve the remaining sprigs for the steak), then season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.
7. While the soup is simmering, squeeze the garlic cloves out of the head of garlic and mash them into a paste. Reserve half of the mash in the fridge for later use with the filet mignon. Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and combine with the other half of the roasted garlic paste.
8. Lay eight slices of bread out on a baking sheet. Brush both sides of each slice with the garlic-butter mixture. Lightly toast the bread in the 350° F oven for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until lightly golden brown and crispy, then remove from oven and set aside until ready to serve.
9. Once the soup is ready, set aside 2 cups to make the steak sauce later, along with four croutons (store where they will remain crisp overnight) and a 1/2 cup of cheese. Ladle the rest of the soup into oven-safe bowls. Top each bowl with a crouton and sprinkle a generous amount of the remaining cheese on top. Place the bowls under the broiler and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6, with extra for sauce.
For the Filet Mignon:
1. Remove the filet mignon steaks from the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature.
2. Preheat a large oven-safe pan, preferably cast-iron, to obtain a better sear on the steaks. (I prefer to do this in the oven at 450° F for more complete, even heating, but you can also do this on the stovetop if you prefer.)
3. Bring a pot of the reserved onion soup to a boil, then adjust to a rapid simmer and reduce the liquid until it coats the back of a spoon. (Tip: To thicken the soup more rapidly, combine 1 tablespoon each of softened butter and flour and gradually stir in the mixture before boiling the soup.) Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Lower heat and keep sauce warm until ready to serve.
4. Combine the remaining roasted garlic with 1 to 2 tablespoons of softened butter and set aside.
5. Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper. Once the pan is very hot, transfer from the oven to the stove over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter (or oil if preferred) to coat the bottom. Once the butter is melted, place the steaks in the pan and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 125° F for medium-rare, flipping once, about 5 to 6 minutes per side (120° F for rare, 130° F for medium). Remove the steaks from heat and top each one with a pat of the garlic butter. Tent with aluminum foil and allow them to rest for about 5 minutes.
6. While the steaks are resting, lay out the reserved croutons on a baking sheet. (If desired, use a serrated knife to slice the croutons into smaller wedges for presentation.) Sprinkle each crouton with a little bit of the reserved Gruyère. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and cook until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
7. Spoon some of the onion sauce onto each plate, then top with the steaks, followed by the croutons. Garnish each plate with a little thyme and add a simple side of greens. Serves 4.