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French (Red) Onion Soup

I have been reading [1] a lot lately [2] about the trade war over Roquefort cheese—a trade war that was advanced by Bush in retaliation for France’s unwillingness to accept imports of hormone-containing beef from the US (and likely influenced by residual anti-France sentiment in the USA post-September 11th). In January, before leaving office, the Bush government imposed a 300% tariff (raising it from an already steep 100%) on the import of Roquefort, essentially stopping its sale in the US.

The story seems to highlight the complexities of the global food trade and raises interesting questions for all of us about how things like Roquefort cheese fit into our diets. Critics of locally-centered diets often address the responsibilities we have to the global economy. Many of the imports we enjoy are also the primary income sources for their region of origin and by no longer purchasing these imports we will be affecting the economies of the exporting countries. The higher tariffs will likely hurt the economy of the area in France surrounding Roquefort which depends entirely on cheese. What does that mean to us, do we have responsibilities to the food economies we have created? Although I’ve never claimed to be a “localvore”, I do try to buy locally grown produce, meat and dairy as often as possible. I make exceptions all of the time and one of those exceptions is cheeses from Europe.

I don’t have any answers, but I am interested in these questions. Eating in a way that feels responsible and ethical is incredibly complicated.

So, how does this lead to French Onion Soup? It doesn’t really. Although, it did prompt me to look through last year’s issue of Gourmet that was dedicated to France. It arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks after Bryan and I returned from Paris [3] and it felt like a wonderful souvenir of our trip. It featured many of the places we were lucky enough to eat at during our stay. This recipe for an updated take on French Onion Soup stood out the first time I flipped through the magazine and as we all suffer through these final weeks of winter, it seems like a good time for a bowl of soup.

This isn’t your grandma’s french onion soup, it is brighter and fresher but still very delicious. The addition of star anise is what really sets this soup apart. It complicates it in a way that transforms the dish. I topped the soup with Manchego cheese, but you could just as easily use Gruyère. It comes  together in about 20 minutes and makes for a really good week night meal.

Oh, and the Roquefort tariff is scheduled to increase on March 22nd, so go buy some of the cheese while you can still afford it!

French Red Onion Soup (adapted from Gourmet, September 2008)

Bring broth, water, spices and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook onions in oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a heavy medium pot over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until deep golden, about 20 minutes. Add the wine and boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 1 minute.

Strain broth through a sieve into onion mixture and briskly simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Season with salt.

Preheat broiler. Ladle soup into 4 ovenproof bowls set in a 4-sided sheet pan. Place baguette slices on top and sprinkle each with 1/2 cup cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes.