I can't count the number of dinners I've begun by cooking bacon and onions together. For this soup, I wanted to see if I could make bacon and onions the beginning, middle, and end of a dinner. —Michael Hoffman
Preheat oven to 350?F. Peel the 10 onions and cut them into eighths, taking car to leave a piece of the root end on every wedge so that they don't fall apart. Cut the apple into similarly sized wedges. Toss the onions and apple in olive oil or bacon drippings, and arrange them in a single layer on a wire rack set in a sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and then with sugar. Roast in the oven, turning the onion and apple wedges over once, until lightly browned and tender—about an hour or an hour and a half. Once cool enough to handle, cut the inedible root ends off the onions.
Meanwhile, make bacon broth, as follows: In a heavy-bottomed pot, cook the confetti-cut bacon over medium low heat, stirring often until most or all of the fat is rendered out. Quarter and add the remaining onion to the pot, along with the carrot and celery. Cook, stirring for minute. Then turn the heat to high and add the thyme sprigs, cinnamon, bay, cloves, fennel seeds, and 6 cups of cold water. Scrape the yummy stuff off the bottom of the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for a hour or so, while the onions roast.
When the onions are almost done, strain the broth into a sauce pan, and boil hard until the liquid has reduced by half. While the broth reduces, cut the inedible root ends off of the onions wedges. Once the broth has reduced, add the roasted onions and apple to the broth and boil for another 15 minutes, or until the ratio of solid to liquid looks about right to make a thick puree. (You want relatively little liquid since there is a good amount of residual water in the roasted onions and apple.)
Puree the mixture in a blender, along with the butter. Season. Put the puree back into the saucepan (after rinsing it out), and place it over low heat until ready to serve. (Don’t wait too long.)
For the garnish, render the lardon in a small skillet, and then remove the crispy bacon pieces to a paper towel. Get the residual bacon fat very hot, and then quickly sear the shitakes until they are well-browned and tender, seasoning near the end. Serve the soup in a warm bowl garnished with the bacon lardon, the mushrooms, and a few fresh thyme leaves. Don’t forget some crusty bread action!