Monday, January 28, 2013

French Onion Pasta


Why does everything become ten times better when you add bubbly, melted cheese on top?

I'm talking about French Onion Soup. Tender onions in a salty brown broth served in cute, rustic soup bowls with a generous layer of cheese melted on top. Oh boy, I need some now.

While this soup is usually an appetizer, this recipe will take everything we love about French Onion Soup and make it a hearty, comforting meal

This dinner is adapted from a post I saw on Pinterest a while back. I am such a sucker for recipes that take a traditional dish and put a new spin on it. See: Spinach and Artichoke Mac and Cheese.

All the basic principles of French Onion Soup are built up in a delicious, thick sauce then poured over pasta and baked with mozzarella cheese on top. If your knees have gone weak at this point, I can understand.

If the flavor profiles weren't enough, this meal is so easy to put together and you most likely have a bunch of the ingredients laying around the kitchen.

We begin by caramelizing slices of onion in unsalted butter over medium-low heat. I added just a scant teaspoon of salt along with 1/2 teaspoon of honey to get the process going. Don't overdo the salt here because there are other salty elements joining the party.

For the perfect caramelized onion, see my how-to post!

While the onions are caramelizing, a small shallot and a glove of garlic are diced. Once the onions are browned and tender, add the shallots and garlic.

A full-bodied red wine deglazes the pan and helps pick up bits of onion on the bottom. I used a good Pinot Noir, but a Marsala is also an obvious choice.

Once some of the alcohol cooks out, mix in beef broth. Bring to a boil, stir in a packet of onion soup mix (try Lipton) then simmer on low until thickened.

A tablespoon or so of fresh parsley and cracked black pepper brightens up the sauce.

A touch of flour and a couple of tablespoons of milk make this sauce ready for the pasta.

Everything is transferred to a baking dish and gets topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. Then under the broiler it goes until perfectly melted and browned and crispy. YUM!

I am posting this as my first "Meatless Monday"--many thanks to my friend for the suggestion! If you would prefer to not use the beef broth, vegetable stock would also taste great with this dish.

The sweetness of the caramelized onions adds a great compliment to the salty onion soup mix. The wine gives the sauce body and richness, while the parsley adds freshness throughout. Melted mozzarella cheese is simply perfect. This is a real winner!

Here's what you need for French Onion Pasta*:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 shallot, diced
1 glove garlic, minced
1/4 cup Pinot Noir
1 1/4 cup low sodium beef stock
1 packet onion soup mix
1 heaping tablespoon fresh parsley
Cracked black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons low-fat milk
2 cups short cut pasta, cooked according to package directions until al dente
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Here's what you do:

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion. Season with salt and toss in honey. Allow to cook until slightly caramelized, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Add in the shallot and garlic and cook until translucent and fragrant.

Stir in the wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits of onion on the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil and cook out some of the alcohol for about 2 minutes.

Add in the beef broth. Again bring to a boil then stir in the onion soup mix. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes until reduced almost in half.

Meanwhile cook your pasta in salted water and drain until slightly harder than al dente.

Stir the parsley into the beef broth mixture and season with cracked pepper. Whisk in flour until fully dissolved, then stir in the milk.

Toss the pasta in the sauce and remove from the heat. Stir to coat, then transfer the mixture to a 9 inch round baking dish.** Cover evenly with the mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler with the oven door slightly ajar, about 5 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly, serve immediately!

**You can also make this in a 9x13 baking dish by doubling the recipe. Original measurements will serve 2 for dinner.

*Adapted from Stephanie Cooks

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