French Onion Soup

In case you’re already thinking about warding off the winter blues, I bring you the inimitable fragrant and hearty French onion soup. What could better warm your innards than a hot steaming crock of this soul warming ambrosia?  Just imagine the creamy melted cheese spilling over the rim of the crock, the crunchy round of French bread underneath and the oniony aroma filling your nostrils.

Now it’s only fair to tell you up front that it does take a bit of time to achieve this luscious result.  I obviously think it’s worth it.  If you want the real thing, prepare to spend a little time in the kitchen keeping an eye on it and stirring from time to time.  You can make other preparations at the same time, but don’t leave the kitchen for too long.


3 strips bacon

½ stick butter (4 oz.)

3 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin

1 t salt*

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2 t sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T flour

4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned*

4 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

½ cup Cognac or brandy

1 T balsamic vinegar

Sprig of fresh thyme

1 Mediterranean bay leaf

Sprig of parsley

1 t Worcestershire sauce

½ t hot pepper sauce

6 slices dry French baguette slices, toasted

1 lb. Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated


In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon over low heat until crisp.  Remove bacon strips and add butter to bacon fat.   Add the onions and cook slowly about 10 minutes.   Stir in the salt, pepper, and sugar and increase the heat to medium.  Stir mixture from time to time until the onions turn to a deep amber color, about 90 minutes. If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in a little water or white wine. Add garlic.

Sprinkle on flour, stir and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and add stock, slowly stirring in the first 2 cups and then adding the rest of the stock and water.    Bring to a simmer and add wine, Cognac, and vinegar.  Tuck in thyme, bay leaf and parsley tied in a bouquet garni of washed cheesecloth.  Add Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and simmer for 30 minutes

Remove bouquet garni and taste for seasoning.  Add salt if necessary.  Fill 6 ovenproof crocks, place toasted baguette slices on top and sprinkle generously with cheese.  Set crocks on a metal cookie sheet and place under broiler until cheese is melted.  Makes 6 servings.

*If using canned chicken broth, don’t add salt.

The Incomparable Victor Ribaudo Whets Your Appetite for More Cool Weather Soups

I love this time of year.  The brisk air hints at cozy evenings on the sofa, and something warm on the dinner table.  Like soup.


Lentil bean ham soup SHI Symbol blog,

Ham and Lentils with White Beans

Not the chilled gazpacho you enjoyed in July. I’m talking about the rich, gratifying warmth only a bowl of soup can bring as we enter the colder months. It’s amazing what a satisfying dinner soup can make, especially when served with crusty bread and a salad. Extremely nourishing. Economical, too. I just can’t say enough about it.

Chicken soup SHI Symbol blog,

Chicken Soup

Growing up, I was treated to an amazing variety of soups. That’s just it about soups. There’s almost no end to the array of recipes for them. Of course, a good chicken soup is always the perfect place to begin. Recipes vary, but they always start with a plump, fresh chicken. Then you build…carrots, onions, celery, potatoes. Almost always present in American versions, with noodles or rice, of course. Add dill and parsnips if you’re going for a Jewish take. And don’t forget to serve with matzo balls or kreplach. Feeling Italian? Add canned plum tomatoes, parsley and a chunk of parmesan rind (it won’t melt as you simmer…promise!) When serving, add some pastina (small pastas like ditalini are perfect) and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Really good for what ails you.

Pasta Fragiole SHI Symbol blog,

Pasta E Fagiole

Beef soup is outstanding, as well. I use short ribs. After enjoying the soup with noodles, I like to serve the ribs and potatoes (I leave them whole) with a side of salad. The meat falls off the bone and has an indescribable sweetness. A complete meal, for sure. You can also add barley to your beef soup, if you want something that really sticks to your ribs.

Da Vinci Wedding Soup, SHI Symbol blog,

Da Vinci Wedding Soup

Vegetable soups really lend themselves to the economical chef. They’re also extremely nutritious. Varied, too. That’s to say that you can take almost any veggie combination and turn it into a satisfying bowl of steaming goodness. Start with a good minestrone, brimming with fresh peas, carrots, onions, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you name it. Throw in a hand-full of pastina and you’ve got the consummate vegetable soup. I particularly like bean soups. From complex Cuban black bean to hearty Italian bean (pasta e fagioli) to smoky lentil or pea soups (the ham bone does the trick). All outstanding, I think. I also enjoy pureed soups. Potatoes and leaks form a good team in this arena. So do carrots and ginger. Add a touch of heavy cream if you’re daring enough. And speaking of cream, who doesn’t love a substantial bowl of New England clam chowder? I mean, really…does it get any better than that?

Tuscan bean soup SHI Symbol blog,

Tuscan Bean Soup

Now I couldn’t possibly mention every type of soup there is out there. I mean, I haven’t even touched upon Chinese wonton or Japanese miso. I just love them all. However, if I had to choose my all time favorite, I’d have to go with French onion soup. I’ve tasted so many – homemade as well as restaurant prepared. Some using roasted beef bones for the broth. Others depending on the caramelization of onions for the rich, brown color and depth of flavor. Doesn’t matter to me. They’re all exceptional. I believe the cheese is what really gets to me, though. Gooey, slightly browned. I especially love the bits that get stuck on the side of the crock. And what about the surprise within…a crusty (not so soggy, if it’s done correctly) piece of French bread. If that’s not a meal, I don’t know what is.

Chilly out tonight? Fill the pot with water or chicken stock and start simmering your own homemade soup. Plan ahead and shop for the ingredients. Or see what you have in the fridge and cupboard. Leftovers are allowed, you know. I mean, use the carcass of last night’s roasted chicken as a base, and create from there. So when the weather calls for soup, you’ll be prepared to answer with a wholesome bowl that will do you good. I think you’ll sleep better that night, too.

Victor Ribaudo

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin,
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the


The Big Easy to Eat: Seafood Gumbo and Company

Gumbo SHI SYmbol Blog,

A Gumbo with Gusto

Even if you can’t make it to New Orleans, you can still celebrate in high style with southern comfort food at its best, a glorious gumbo. This one features shrimp, scallops, crab, andouille sausage and okra in a nourishing and soul-warming shrimp stock.  The shrimp and scallops are seared before added to the stock and the okra sautéed in a hot skillet to lose most of its “ropey” texture. I hope you’ll love it.

Shrimp stock:

Peanut or vegetable oil
• Reserved raw shells, tails and heads from shrimp (see seafood
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 stalk celery, chopped
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 Turkish bay leaf
• 6 cups water
• ¾ cup dry white wine

In a large sauce pan, heat 2 T oil to hot and sauté shrimp shells, carrot, celery and onion for 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add bay leaf, water and white wine. Bring to a simmer and cook at medium heat for 40 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard solids.

While stock is simmering, prepare the following:

• ½ lb andouille sausage* cut into thin slices
• 1 large onion, finely dice
• 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
• 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
• 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
• ½ cup tomatoes, seeded and chopped
• 1 t fresh thyme, chopped
• ¼ t cayenne pepper

Brown andouille in a lightly oiled large skillet. Remove to a paper towel lined plate. Heat 2 T oil in skillet and add onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, thyme and cayenne pepper and cook until soft. Set aside to be added to roux.


• 1 stick unsalted butter
• ½ cup flour

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven make a roux. Melt butter and gradually add flour stirring until a rich caramel color is reached.

Gently add the vegetable mixture. Cook for another 3 minutes.

Bring shrimp stock to a boil. Gradually whisk cups into the roux mixture. Bring back to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.


• 1 lb. large shrimp, cleaned. Reserve shells, tails and heads. (If
possible, buy shrimp with the heads on.)
• 6 large sea scallops, muscles removed, cut in half horizontally
• 6 oz. lump crabmeat

Wipe out the large skillet and add 2 T oil. Heat to almost smoking.

Add scallops seasoned with salt and pepper. Sear about 1 minute on each side. Remove and set aside. Add more oil if necessary to sauté shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper. Sauté until just pink, about 3 minutes. Set aside with scallops.


• ½ lb. okra cut into 1/4 –inch slices

In a dry skillet, sauté okra over medium high heat, turning frequently until they lose most of the liquid and begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to scorch it. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from skillet.

Optional: up to 1 ½ t file powder**
• 2 T chopped green onion


Add andouille, okra, scallops, shrimp and crabmeat to shrimp stock.

Stir to combine. If additional thickening is desired, take off heat and add file powder accordingly, stirring constantly. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped green onions and serve in large bowls or soup plates over hot white rice.

*andouille—a spicy smoked sausage found in some supermarkets, specialty markets and online.

**file powder—ground dried leaves of the sassafras tree used to thicken and flavor Creole dishes; available in the spice or gourmet section of most large supermarkets.

The Big Easy to Eat

by Victor Ribaudo

Rampart Street 502 SHI SYmbol Blog

Rampart Street

As a self pronounced foodie, I just can’t help being drawn to the diversity of the cuisine of New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. My Sicilian ancestry taught me how the blending of cultures in a particular region can produce some interesting tastes. Louisiana is a stunning example of this phenomenon.

French Market. New Orleans. Louisiana, SHI Symbol Blog

French Market

With a smattering of influences from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Africans, Native Americans, Italians and more, the tastes and textures of Louisiana fare are varied and always tantalizing. In fact, one can actually distinguish between two schools of cooking here, namely Creole and Cajun. Although they share much in common, the easiest way to describe the differences is that Creole tends to be a bit more complex, gastronomically speaking, borrowing cooking techniques from Europe and adapting them to local ingredients. Cajun cuisine leans more on a simple, down-home culinary philosophy born of the provincial French cooking that the Acadians brought to the bayous from Canada.

Both do, however, share what is commonly called the Holy Trinity. Simply a mixture chopped celery, bell pepper and onions, it serves as the cooking base to most dishes. Add it to local ingredients like crawfish, rice, beans and smoked ham, and you’ll discover some of the finest dishes you’ll ever experience, all with that intriguing flavor that makes them unmistakably Louisiana. (Oh, you can expect lots of cayenne pepper here as well. After all, some like it hot. Actually, in Louisiana, everyone likes it hot!)

Jambalaya_00035 SHI Symbol Blog


OK, now to some of my favorite dishes. Well, to be honest, they’re all my favorites. I particularly likethe stews, though. They almost always begin with a roux, or a mixture of fat and flour that, depending on how long it cooks, adds a light brown to deep-red color and thickens the final creation. Take gumbo, for instance. This savory stew of meat or seafood, and sometimes okra, is lovingly simmered in a thickened, aromatic stock and served steaming over rice. I mean, come on, has to be good, right? Or etouffee, which is similar to gumbo, but a bit earthier due the dark-red roux used as a thickener. I prefer mine with crawfish, but you can also try shrimp, crab or chicken varieties.

Preservation Hall 302 SHI Symbol Blog

Preservation Hall

Did I mention how important rice is to the Cajun and Creole cook? Not surprising, since we are speaking of the South. Along with red beans and rice, flavored with Tasso ham and usually served on Mondays, or dirty rice (chicken liver or giblets give it a grayish color), I simply adore a dish called jambalaya. Reminiscent of paella, this favorite takes chicken and sausage, such as andouille, and slowly adds rice and stock until it all combines into a heavenly concoction of hearty goodness. Creole style adds tomatoes, Cajun does not. Both are fantastic.

The lover of Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, would be angry with me if I forgot to mention the sandwich. Here, it takes on a whole new meaning. Like the po’ boy. Imagine fried shrimp, oysters or other seafood, piled high on steaming hot Louisiana French bread, and dressed with spicy Creole mustard. Outstanding. Or the muffuletta.

Dressed with a generous portion of marinated olive salad, it combines every type of Italian cold cut imaginable, all stuffed into a hefty, seeded Italian-style bread. Give it a while before consuming – you’ll want the juices from the olive salad to soak into the bread. Makes this Italian boy’s heart sing.

Famous PO Boys New Orleans SHI Symbol Blog,

The Famous Po Boys

What good meal doesn’t end with a sweet? So you’ll have to complete your Cajun or Creole feast with the beignet, a square shaped fried dough pastry that’s sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Talk about indulgence. Couple that with a nice cup of New Orleans style café au lait (the addition of chicory makes it authentic) and you’re ready to head home for a long nap.

No wonder they call New Orleans “The Big Easy.” With a culinary tradition that’s world renown, it so easy to be happy there. No time to visit? Not a problem. Try creating a Louisiana taste experience of your own. And invite me over. I’m easy to please.

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, Blog syndicated at the

Puerto Rican Sancocho; A Centuries-Old Stew Still a Classic Today

For the Love of Puerto Rican Cuisine, Part 2, by Victor Ribaudo

As I was telling you last week, the love of my life is Puerto Rican. And although I am a true romantic at heart, I must say that my infatuation stems in some part to my adoration for Puerto Rican cuisine. We spoke about sofrito (the chef’s own coveted flavoring base), platanos (plantains) and rice and beans. Let’s delve a little deeper now, discovering some of the dishes that put Puerto Rico prominently on the gastronomic map.

Puerto Rican Specialties
I recently returned from a trip to Puerto Rico. Seven pounds later, I can report that we had a grand time exploring the various dishes this tropical jewel has to offer.

Deep fried finger foods abound on the island, and can often be enjoyed at roadside stands. I sampled mine near Luquillo Beach. As I had mentioned last week, fried tostones (plantains) serve as a delicious nibble. I particularly like them topped with a crabmeat salad. Alcapurriasyautia (taro), batata (sweet potato), yucca (a starch root) and platanos that are grated into a firm dough (masa), and then filled with highly seasoned ground beef and deep fried. How bad can that be? Other delights include bacalaitos, or salt cod fritters; surullitos, tasty cornmeal sticks; and empanadillas, crispy turnovers filled with a variety of succulent meat or seafood stuffings. are another favorite. Preparation consists of Mofongo, another personal favorite, is offered in almost every restaurant on the island. Green platanos are fried, and then mashed in a pilon (mortar and pestle) with lots of garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings. It’s served plain, or “stuffed” with chicken, beef or seafood. If I don’t choose this as a main course, I always order it on the side. It’s outstanding.

Guisados (stews) and asopaos (gumbos) are also favorite fare in Puerto Rico. From chicken to beef to seafood, they’re all creatively prepared with the chef’s own sofrito, of course, along with lots of vegetables, and served with a nice portion of rice and beans or a side of tostones. My absolute, all time, most preferred Puerto Rican stew is called sancocho. My sister-in-law spoils me with her version, when I plead hard enough. Starting with, you guessed it, her personal sofrito, she combines different portions of chicken, pork and smoked ham with every imaginable vegetable – my favorite in this dish are the green bananas, batatas and portions of corn on the cob. It simmers for hours and hours resulting in the most unimaginably delicious dish. Served with her white rice and bean stew, it just can’t be beat. She’s also been known to treat us to holiday specialties such as pastelon, a sweet plantain lasagna, as well as pasteles, a sort of tamale with a Puerto Rican twist. Amazing!

Puerto Ricans also have a special way of preparing simple meat offerings. Truly, you haven’t tasted pork until you’ve sampled lechon asado, or roasted pig. Marinated in sour orange juice, it’s usually spit-roasted for hours until the skin is just perfectly crisp and succulent. Or pernil, which is pork shoulder dry-rubbed with lots of adobe (a garlicky spice mixture) and slow roasted overnight. Oh, don’t forget to try bistec encebollada, a satisfying dish of perfectly marinated beefsteak sautéed with lots of onions and oregano. Simple, yes. Intoxicating, always.

Oh yes, I can’t speak enough about the glories of Puerto Rican cuisine. End the meal with a strong cup of Puerto Rican coffee and flan, a custard enrobed in a caramelize sugar sauce, or tres leches, a sponge cake soaked in sweetened, condensed milk and topped with whip cream – well, what can I say? You’re set. It’s a matter of love for me. And although your loved one may not be Puerto Rican as mine is, I can promise you that the tastes of Puerto Rico will strike a cord in your heart as well.

Puerto Rican Sancocho; A Centuries-Old Stew – Still a Classic Today

This satisfying meat stew is thought to have evolved from “Puchero Canario” and brought by Canary Islanders who immigrated to Latin America. It is a hearty stew of meat, sometimes fish, and vegetables, largely root vegetables, and plantains, to mention just a few of the main ingredients. Simmered a long time, the fragrant mouthwatering melange goes a long way to satisfy a lot of hungry people. Every family has its own version. While researching this treasure, I came across a recipe calling for 46 ingredients. The following recipe, far less demanding, has been tweaked a bit to suit contemporary cooking.

(Inspired by El Boricua, online cultural magazine)

Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 T olive oil
1/3 cup chopped yellow onions
1 ½ lbs. beef chuck or flanken (cross-cut ribs), cubed into 1 1/2 –inch pieces
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup chopped sweet green pepper
1/3 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1/3 cup chopped celery
1 aji dulce,* seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 t salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
4 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
4 quarts beef stock,** divided
1 yellow plantain, peeled and sliced into ½-inch pieces
2 green bananas, peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1-inch pieces
½ lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
3 medium new potatoes, scrubbed clean and quartered
1 large chayote, peeled, cored and diced into 1-inch pieces
2 ears of corn, cleaned and sliced into 6 parts each


Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add onions and beef cubes and cook until onions are translucent and meat is browned on all sides. Add garlic, green and red peppers, celery, aji dulce, cilantro, salt, pepper and tomatoes.. Add I quart of beef stock, bring to a boil and cook at a bare simmer until reduced by half.

Give beef a stir and then add remainder of ingredients and beef stock. Continue cooking at a simmer until meat is tender and vegetables are soft.

Serving suggestions:

White rice
A crusty peasant bread good for soaking up the delicious broth.
Diced Hass avocado
*Aji dulce, a small sweet chili pepper

**A homemade beef stock is best, but if purchased, look for low sodium as broth will become saltier as it reduces. You can also use chicken broth or even water since the ingredients and long cooking will exude flavor.

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin,

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