Serious Eats: Recipes
Eat for Eight Bucks: French Onion Pastina
There's a sort of magic in caramelizing an onion; it doesn't seem possible that all that sugar is hiding inside the sulfurous bulb. And it's that surprising sweetness that makes French onion soup one of the most comforting foods I know.
While I'm always soothed by French onion soup, I'm rarely left full, and I've long plotted to somehow bulk it up. But filling up on baguette seems unimaginative, and simply throwing some cooked noodles into the pot, as you might do with a chicken soup, doesn't feel like a coherent dish. So I've devised what you might call a mock risotto, in which acini di pepe (a pastina, or little pasta, named for its peppercorn shape) is cooked directly in the soup, absorbing all of its sweet, oniony flavor. As with risotto, any unabsorbed liquid is thickened by the starch to form an almost creamy sauce. But, unlike risotto, there's no stirring or incremental ladling of stock.
It wouldn't be French onion soup without the cheese, so I stir some grated Parmesan into the finished pastina and top it with a Parmesan crisp. The crisp is a fussy, and optional, extra, but little flourishes like this one always make me feel better about cooking on the cheap. The dish, after all, cost just $6.85 to make.
The Shopping List
Note: Items bought in large quantities, like the pasta and Parmesan, have been pro-rated for cost. Ingredients a cook can reasonably be expected to have on hand are considered "Pantry Items" and are not factored into recipe cost.
2 large onions - $0.86
1 quart beef stock - $3.29
1/2 pound acini di pepe - $0.85 (total cost of item - $1.69)
3 ounces domestic Parmesan - $1.85 (total cost of item - $3.09)
Dried thyme; flour; olive oil; salt and pepper