Richard Olney
September 24, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Like all shrines, this one is on a hill, and built into solid rock. Richard Olney saw it first in 1961 on an excursion south from his adoptive home in Paris. Olney, whose The French Menu Cookbook was recently judged the best cookbook ever by this magazine, immediately knew he had found his proper place on earth.

The other pillar of Olney's reputation is Simple French Food - from which comes this recipe for Tourain à la bordelaise:
The various tourains of southwestern France are also onion soups. The onions are colored in goose fat, lard, or drippings and the simplest is moistened with water, simmered for from 45 minutes to 1 hour and served over crusts of bread. Garlic is sometimes added, often a spoonful of flour is stirred into the onions after they have been browned and before they are moistened, a handful of French thread-thin vermicelli may be added a few minutes before serving, and terminal egg-yolk bindings are not uncommon. The bread crusts may be rubbed with garlic, and certain households add a bit of vinegar at the last minute.

The following is a typical Bordelais
tourain and is traditional at the season of the wine-grape harvest. A native may first eat his sopped bread crust, empty out his (red) wine glass into the soup, and drink the rest from the soup plate, a performance known as faire chabrol (or faire chabrot) - to act like a little goat - and which belongs more to the realm of folklore than to that of contemporary habit.
1 1/2 pound onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium firm, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups boiling water
Slices of stale bread
Using a large, heavy saucepan, cook the onions gently in the oil, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until they are uniformly light golden and very soft. Add the salt, the garlic, the tomatoes, and the sugar and continue to cook gently, stirring from time to time, for another 10 minutes. Add the white wine, turn the flame up, reduce by half, stirring, and add the boiling water. Simmer, covered, for from 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving out the soup over crusts of bread placed in the individual soup plates.
posted by Egg Shen (12 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My only claim to fame is the Olney page on Wikipedia, which I created a few years ago. I have difficulty believing that someone didn't get there before me. This recipe is characteristic of his style -- not just the food but the life and place of the people who eat it. His memoir, "Reflexions", is fascinating far beyond the word of foodism; he was a true beatnik, an American in exile in Paris (with James Baldwin et alia) and rural France, and was an important figure in the development of American cooking as well, through the restaurant of his friend Alice Waters and the wine business of his friend Kermit Lynch (whom he introduced to Lulu Leyraud of Domaine Tempier). More than that, though, it's just an interesting read.
posted by Fnarf at 2:51 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is cool, but I now I just want to see a picture of the landscape that he fell in love with.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:53 PM on September 24, 2012

a picture of the landscape that he fell in love with

Solliès-Toucas in Provence
posted by Egg Shen at 3:02 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't forget The Good Cook series edited by Olney for Time-Life Books back in the day. Accessible, inventive, well-illustrated, and dirt cheap at your local used book store, tag sale, or flea market.

"Variety Meats" is worth picking up if you can find it -- it's one of the rarer issues -- if only to give your inner vegan the vapors.
posted by Kinbote at 4:07 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just finished Pollan's "In Defense of Food" and this seems like the next book I should read. Merci for the great post.
posted by Brodiggitty at 4:12 PM on September 24, 2012

I want to buy a hill and the derelict farmhouse attached to it for £1,000.
posted by shoesietart at 4:47 PM on September 24, 2012

Richard Olney, what a guy. This is a fun article.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:37 PM on September 24, 2012

Pretty long article about a house and a hill to not have any pictures of it. Seriously, pics or it didn't happen.
posted by Napierzaza at 7:09 AM on September 25, 2012

Kinbote: if only to give your inner vegan the vapors.
I larded mine.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:29 AM on September 25, 2012

Great. Now I have to buy ANOTHER cook book.
posted by Specklet at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2012

no doubt... you're not going to find a hillside here in france for a thousand quid today :)

I'm happy if I can find 6 eggs for 2 euros!
posted by EricGjerde at 1:31 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I have to cook the Onion Soup posted above this week! sounds great and different to the usual French Onion Soup recipes I have seen.
posted by mary8nne at 4:41 AM on September 26, 2012

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