The Romans who founded the town of Aix-en-Provence twenty-three centuries agomay have been the first people that we know of to fall in love with the charms of Provence, but they were certainly not the last. Artists such as van Gogh and Cezanne have immortalized the olive groves, craggy red hills, breathtaking lavender and sunflower fields, and the brilliant sunshine that make Provence top the wish-list of any traveler.
The lively, bustling city of Aix contains everything that makes Provence irresistible. It all enchants: the famous Cours Mirabeau, bordered by plane trees that form a leafy, green arch as you stroll along the sidewalks, the baroque fountains spraying water in the summer heat, solemn churches, fashionable shops, and bustling cafes filled with university students.
And when it comes to tasting the flavors of Provence, nobody does it better than Aix. We were enthralled by the creative use of herbs, the inspired treatment of vegetables, the lovingly simmered stews and the delicately cooked seafood that we enjoyed at every meal. Traditional dishes such as Daube, French onion soup, Pistou, Ratatouille and Bouillabaise tasted like none other after the imaginative treatment they received at the hands of local chefs.
Classic French Onion soup done with a Provencal twist was one of my favorites in Aix. A little sprinkle of Herbes de Provence makes a world of difference to its flavor!
In my recipe, I use Herbes de Provence too, but first I season the lamb broth generously with whole spices to create depth of flavor and a subtle spicy aroma that goes well with Herbes de Provence. The shredded lamb and barley add another level of flavor to the soup, setting it apart from anything else you may have had before.
French Onion Soup With Lamb And Barley
You can serve this rich, hearty soup the traditional way with a thick slice of rustic bread and some cheese melted over top, or you can serve it with bread on the side for dipping. Making and refrigerating the lamb broth a day ahead of time simplifies the process and also makes it easier to skim off the extra fat. You can, of course, make the soup vegetarian - substitute vegetable broth instead. It's delicious!
For a more classic version try this recipe of French Onion Soup
For the lamb broth:
3 lb lamb shanks (about 3 large)
6 cups water
4 cloves garlic
10 each: whole cloves, cardamom
1 tsp whole black pepper
1 inch stick cinnamon
Salt to taste
For the soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 large sweet onions (such as Spanish or Vidalia), halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
½ tsp each: sugar, herbes de Provence
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup each: white wine, white wine vinegar, pearl barley
Combine all broth ingredients together in large saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 2 hours or until lamb is very tender. Lift lamb out of broth, cool and shred.
Strain broth and skim off fat. Reserve broth.
Warm oil in deep skillet set over medium high heat. Add bay leaves and onions. Sauté for 10 min, stirring frequently until they begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium, add sugar and herbs. Saute for another 10 mins until onions are dark brown. Add vegetables, sauté 10 min.
Add wine and vinegar to deglaze skillet. Cook 5 min until slightly reduced. Add barley, shredded lamb and reserved broth. Stir gently, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour or until vegetables are very tender and barley is cooked.
Taste for seasonings, sprinkle some chopped fresh parsley over top if desired.