One of my favorite things in life is saying “I told you so,” so if you read my review of The Brutal Telling, you’ll understand why my satisfaction with Bury Your Dead goes beyond an appreciation of the elegant storytelling and excellent plot. It’s so very nice, six books into Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, to feel such trust in an author (and, well, I get to say I told you so, teehee.)
That said, Bury Your Dead opens on tragic circumstances. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is taking time off from the Surêté after tragedy rips through the force, damaging many, including members of his loyal team. In Quebec City, to recover at the home of his retired mentor Emile Comeau, his days are spent quietly reading in the Literary and Historical Society—the little publicized bulwark of Anglo culture in the capital of French-Canada. But then, a body is found in the basement, and despite his initial reluctance, Inspector Gamache finds himself drawn to assist in the investigation.
In the meantime, his right hand man, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, is stifling under his wife’s ministrations as he struggles to recover from the tragedy in his own home. When Inspector Gamache finds himself re-evaluating the conclusions he and his team came to in The Brutal Telling, Jean Guy is only too happy to be dispatched to Three Pines to look at the case with fresh eyes.
One of the many things I enjoyed about this book was how great it was to see Jean Guy interact with the Three Pines villagers without Inspector Gamache’s presence to smooth things over. Jean Guy’s haughtiness and the ensuing adjustment of his terrible attitude make for fascinating reading. I was also extremely pleased to see Agent Yvette Nichol back in action. Like Inspector Gamache, I have an inexplicable soft spot for the unlikeable agent, and I really, really hope to read more of her in future books of the series.
But to the cooking! The Nature of The Feast chose one of my very favorite French dishes to accompany Bury Your Dead, a soup perfect for the cooling weather outdoors:
French Onion Soup
*Makes about 4 cups (1 liter); (2 main-course servings or 4 first-course servings)
4 tablespoons (2 oz/57 g) unsalted butter
2 pounds (1 kg) yellow onions (about 5 medium onions), peeled and sliced ¼ inch/70 mm thick
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¹⁄³ cup (80 ml) white wine or 3 tablespoons (45 ml) dry sherry
3 cups (750 ml) beef or chicken broth, preferably homemade
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Half a French baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
1 cup (3 oz/90 g) grated Gruyère cheese
1. Heat the butter in a medium (4-quart/4-liter) heavy-bottomed pot over low heat until bubbling. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until very well browned, about 45 minutes.
2. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the wine or sherry and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated. Add the broth, bring to a boil, and adjust the heat so the soup is barely simmering. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook until the onions are very tender, about 15 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, make the toasts: Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Lightly brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil. Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
4. Position the oven rack about 8 inches (20 cm) from the broiler and preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into 2 ovenproof crocks. Cover the top of the soup with a layer of toasts, then spread a layer of the cheese over the toasts. Place the crocks on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Let the crocks sit for a few minutes before serving, handling them carefully.
VARIATION: If you don’t have ovenproof crocks, make the cheese toasts and float them on top of the soup: Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Make the toasts as described above and line them up on the sheet. Top with the grated Gruyère. Bake until the cheese is golden brown and the toasts are very crisp, about 12 minutes. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with the cheese toasts.
First, I have to apologize for my photos and presentation not being quite as good as usual. I did not have ovenproof crocks to hand, so I attempted the recipe variation, and the soup presentation did not come out as lovely as the traditional one might. That said, oh, what a delightfully robust soup! Even without the oven-baking, it came out as deliciously as expected, especially when the cheese toasts were allowed to soak up the soup beneath them for a while before being devoured.
I did find that my idea of browning/softening quite differs from the recipe authors’. I wound up letting the onions brown for far longer than the 45 minutes prescribed in the recipe, but it made for a delectable soup in the end. This “French Onion Soup” was as satisfying a dish to consume as Bury Your Dead was to read.
Next week: I skip over the possibility of sweet crepes to make two savory dishes to accompany A Trick of the Light instead. I know, who even am I? Tell me how you’re doing as you cook along with me from The Nature of The Feast, Louise Penny’s free cookbook accompaniment to her bestselling Inspector Gamache series.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.