Back in the day, I used to spend my winters ski racing. We’d spend hours trucking back and forth from Ontario to Quebec, with limited stops for food. But when we did stop, it was real food. French food. One of my favorite dishes was, soupe a l’oignon au fromage, French onion soup. Onions slowly-cooked in a hearty beef stock, served in a crock with a thick layer of melted Gruyere cheese. This stuff was the real deal – real beef bones, authentic French cheese. Flashing back to those French onion soups of days past, I realized that too few soups are topped with a big slab of cheese and baked in the oven. Why should French onion soup have all the fun?
1/2 pound (about 1 1/4 cups) dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed
1 bunch of collard greens (or any sturdy green like kale or chard), cleaned and finely sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz package of bacon (I like the Sunday bacon from Applegate Farms)
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 rib of celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
28-ounce can whole tomatoes in its juice
14-ounce can of tomato puree
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1-2 inch hunk of parmesan (I use the heel once I’ve grated as much as I can from a wedge of parmesan)
Approx 3 cups water to cover the chickpeas & vegetables
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
8-oz ball of buffalo mozzarella, sliced into 6 rounds
To prepare the chickpeas: If you’re preparing the soup the day before, soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with water; if preparing the day of, the chickpeas can be quick cooked while you make the soup in the slow cooker. Place the chickpeas in a pot and cover with water by three inches. Bring to a boil and simmer briskly for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for one hour.
To make the soup: Bring a large, salted pot of water to boil and when boiling, add the collard greens, boiling for a few minutes until wilted.
Drain and run under cold water to set the color, and put to the side. (This can be done a day ahead of time).
Set a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and snip the bacon into chunks.
Fry until crisp and remove with a slotted spoon and place in the slow cooker.
Drain all but 2 Tablespoons of the bacon grease, and add the chopped onion, carrot and celery. Sautee until beginning to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, and sautee one minute more.
Add the white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping all of the vegetables into the slow cooker.
Add the tomatoes (and the beans, whenever they’re ready), as well as the thyme and parmesan heel to the slow cooker.
Add the 3 cups of water (may be a little more or less, depending on the size of your cooker- use your judgement – it should be enough to make it a soupy consistency).
Season with salt & pepper, and give the soup a good stir.
Cover, and set to high heat, cooking for 4-6 hours.
About an hour before the soup is ready, remove the woody thyme sprigs, and break up the whole tomatoes with a spoon; add the greens.
Depending on the size of your slow cooker, you may need to add a little water, or if the soup is too watery, take the lid off, continue to cook the soup down.
To serve soup: When you’re ready to serve the soup, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place 6 ovenproof soup bowls on a baking sheet.
Ladle some soup into each of your bowls and top each bowl with a slice of mozzarella.
Bake in the oven, uncovered, until the mozzarella is melted, about 10 minutes. The mozzarella should be really well melted so that it’s easy to scoop with a spoon. We learned the hard way that if the cheese isn’t melted enough, it’s tough to dig into it with a spoon.
Notes: Depending on the size of the soup bowls that you use, you may have some soup left over – this will keep in the fridge for another 2-3 days.