Caramelized Onion and Italian Sausage Soup

soup

by Karen Frazier

I know, I know. More soup. It’s the first day of fall, so a nice, warming soup is perfect for your dinner.

One of the reasons I like soups and stews so much is that they really provide an opportunity to build flavor, which gives them a complex, rich taste. In the case of this soup, the complex flavors come from taking the time to brown your meat and caramelize your onions, which adds a deep savory richness to the soup. This soup is pretty easy and hands-off, so while it takes a bit of time to come together, it isn’t terribly labor-intensive.

Caramelized Onion and Italian Sausage Soup

  • 2 tablespoons duck fat, lard, or your favorite fat
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 6 cups homemade beef bone broth
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  1. In a large pot, heat the fat on medium-high until it shimmers.
  2. Add the Italian sausage and cook, crumbling as you cook, until it is browned, about five minutes.
  3. Remove the sausage from the fat with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a platter.
  4. Reduce the heat to low. Add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized.
  5. Return the heat to medium-high. Add the sherry, using the side of a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
  6. Add the bone broth, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and reserved Italian sausage. Bring to a simmer. Simmer until the mushrooms soften, five to ten minutes.

I like mine drizzled with a little bit of truffle oil.

photo credit: photopin (license)

Caramelized Onions – In the Slow Cooker

caramelized onionsby Karen Frazier

Caramelized onions add a sweet umami flavor to any dish. Just a few of these delicious onions make the dishes to which you add them display deeper complexity and richness. Plus, they are just plain delicious, and they’re a great way to add flavor to ancestral recipes.

I use them to top burger patties and steaks. I puree them with faux mashed potatoes made from cauliflower or celeriac. I stir them into soups and stews. I puree them with other cooked veggies and stir them back into braising liquid to make a flavorful thick sauce or gravy. I fold them into omelets, cook them with chicken, mix them with pureed avocado for a creamy dip, and find dozens of other delicious uses for them.

So it stands to reason with that, with so many uses for caramelized onions, it makes cooking easier if I make them in bulk and freeze them. When I make a single serving of caramelized onions on the stovetop, it takes about 45 minutes, which isn’t realistic for busy weeknights. However, if I make them in bulk in the slow cooker and freeze them, they are really easy to incorporate in all kinds of delicious dishes.

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

  • 5 to 7 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced (or however many fit in your slow cooker)
  • 3 tablespoons melted duck fat, lard, or your preferred fat
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  1. Toss all ingredients together in a slow cooker to coat the onions.
  2. Cover the slow cooker and turn it on to low. Cook for about nine to ten hours, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown. Remove the lid and continue cooking the onions on low, stirring occasionally, for an additional one to two hours to allow excess liquid to evaporate.
  3. These will keep in the freezer for up to six months.

A note about the onions: The Environmental Working Group lists onions as one of its Clean 15, items that test only negligible amounts of pesticide residue. If I pick up onions at the farmers market, I buy them organic. Otherwise, I typically by conventionally grown onions at the grocery store.

One of my favorite cooking publications, Cooks Illustrated, recommends Spanish onions as the perfect caramelizing onion. I agree – if you can find them, try these. Otherwise, yellow onions are perfect. Sweet onions will make a very sweet caramelized onion, which may be a bit too much sweetness for some people. I prefer my caramelized onions on the more savory side with just a hint of sweetness, which is why I tend to use yellow onions or Spanish onions.

My favorite onions are cipollini, so I was excited to give those a try to caramelize. To my surprise they were almost aggressively savory – so just a few onions went a very long way.

photo credit: I Believe I Can Fry via photopin cc

Wine and Horseradish Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onion Cauliflower Mash

short ribby Karen Frazier

Jim went to his cardiologist yesterday and got the go ahead for his primal diet. I was thrilled, because some doctors don’t like it that much. I’m glad to know my instincts were decent in this case. So tonight, I’m making use of my slow cooker and some grass fed, organic primal cut short ribs we picked up. I’m braising them in red wine and horseradish sauce, and turning the braising liquid into a gravy with which to top the cauliflower. I’m trying to give Jim non-primal flavors with a good health payoff.

There’s some controversy in the paleo world about red wine. Some people have it. Some don’t. If you know Jim and me, then you know we are wine enthusiasts. So I’m cooking with it tonight. It’s a sometimes thing instead of an every night indulgence now.

Jim has been so careful about following his diet that I wanted to make him something delicious, and I think this qualifies. Plus, I wanted to experiment with paleo gravy techniques.

Slow Cooker Wine and Horseradish Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onion Cauliflower Mash

For the short ribs:

  • 3 slices pastured sugar-free bacon (we get ours at US Wellness Meats), cut into pieces
  • 2 three-rib slabs of grass fed organic beef short ribs, cut into individual ribs
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 pound organic cremini mushrooms
  • 1 pound organic baby carrots or 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 sprigs organic fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs organic fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons organic prepared horseradish (or more to taste)
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minced or through a garlic press
  1. Season the ribs with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and place in the bottom of a slow cooker.
  2. Brown the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, put the bacon in the slow cooker. Set aside the bacon fat for the caramelized onions and cauliflower you’ll make later.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir. Cook, covered, on low for 8 to 10 hours or high for five hours.
  4. When the meat has cooked, remove it from the cooking liquid with tongs and set aside on a platter.
  5. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove all of the vegetables from the cooking liquid and place them in a food processor. Remove the thyme and rosemary branches and throw them away.
  6. Leaving the top slot of the food processor open so steam can escape, puree the vegetables until smooth. Stir them back into the cooking liquid in the slow cooker until the liquid thickens.
  7. Return the meat to the cooking liquid and reduce heat to keep warm while you prepare the cauliflower.

For the cauliflower:

  • 2 tablespoons pastured bacon fat
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 heads organic cauliflower, broken into small florets
  • 2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat (or, if you’re not allergic to dairy like me, substitute pastured butter or another animal fat such as lard or duck fat)
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. In a large saute pan, heat the bacon fat over medium heat until it melts.
  2. Add the onions in a single layer in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are reduced and caramelized, about 45 minutes.
  4. In a large pot, cover the cauliflower with water. Cover the pot and set it on the stove to boil on high heat until the cauliflower is soft, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Drain the cauliflower well and allow it to sit in the colander for a few minutes to remove as much liquid as possible.
  6. Transfer the cauliflower and caramelized onions to the food processor. Add one to two tablespoons of butter, bacon fat, or some other fat. Process until smooth. Be sure to leave the top slot of the food processor open so the steam can escape.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Now, serve the meat and gravy over the mashed cauliflower. Delicious, I promise!

A bit about my food processor warning. When I was a little kid, my mom was pureeing hot lentil soup in the food processor. It went boom and wound up all over the kitchen ceiling. My mom was lucky she didn’t get burned by the scalding hot soup.

When blending hot foods in a blender or food processor, steam build up can cause hot liquid and food to force its way out of the top of the processor. It can blow the lid clean off a blender. The best way to protect yourself is to open the chute at the top of the blender or food processor as you blend. Then, fold a towel several times and place it on top of the blender or processor. Place your hand on top of the towel to hold the lid in place. The towel will protect your hand. Finally, don’t stick your face right over the top of the open chute, just in case. Open the lid cautiously after blending hot  foods.

So – when I mentioned I was making mashed cauliflower on Facebook, I got some negative feedback about it. Apparently it’s a love it or hate it kind of food. I like it. With this, the caramelized onions really do mellow the flavor, and the bacon fat (if you use it) adds a lovely smokiness. Still – if you just can’t see yourself eating mashed cauliflower, consider another mashed paleo-friendly food such as celeriac or sweet potatoes.

photo credit: thebittenword.com via photopin cc