Photographs by: Brian Ziegler
So this is a personal one for me.
As soon as I read Oliver Twist, I was transported to a tougher time in my life. I was 19 and broke. One day – one of those brutally cold New York days in February where it hurt to breathe – I got home after a freezing six-block walk and was heartbroken to find absolutely nothing in the fridge. I checked around the kitchen and saw two big onions and some stale Italian bread. Only problem is this bread is stale… and that’s being kind.
So basically I got nothing.
Then it comes to me, what is the best thing to do with stale bread? Boom, Italian bread soup. I figure I can maybe salvage the bread by toasting it. I use the onion to start making the soup knowing at least I got the most flavourful water in the world (at least that’s the New York City legend) to add to my base. It ended up pretty good.
This recipe isn’t exactly the gruel Oliver would’ve eaten, but we want to make something that’s delicious. So I took the basic ingredients that the workhouse would have had on any given day and made the cheapest but tastiest soup possible.
- 3 large onions
- 2 litres water I use NYC tap water; if you’re outside of the city I recommend bottled water
- 800 g coarse Italian bread
- salt and pepper to taste
- 200 g butter can use less
Thinly slice the onions.
Cut the bread into medium cubes (half the size of a large marshmallow). It is best to use stale bread. If the bread is fresh, either cut it ahead of time and leave it out or you can put it in a very low oven (200°C) until it dries out.
Slowly caramelize the onions by salting.*
Add the water and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and cover. By covering the onions while hot they infuse. Infuse for 20 minutes.
Strain and return to heat.
Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and add the bread.
Cook until the bread begins to break down (20 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Cool or serve and finish with olive oil.
*It’s very important to cook the onions extremely slowly. Start them with a warm neutral oil such as grapeseed oil. Sweat slowly, adding salt at the beginning to draw out the natural moisture of the onion, stirring occasionally. After the onion starts to cook down and become more translucent, add some butter. Stir occasionally and add more butter when the onions become too dry. Do this for about 45 minutes until the onions have a nice deep amber color. They shouldn’t be burnt or bitter, just beautifully caramelized.