Julia Child's last meal, fittingly, was French onion soup made by her personal assistant from Child's own recipe.
When Child, 91, died in her sleep last week at an assisted living facility in Montecito, Calif., she left a legacy as towering as her 6-foot-2 frame. Amateur and professional cooks across the country credit her with firing their passion for culinary pursuits.
Her vast knowledge of French classics was made palatable by a strong sense of pragmatism. She pushed moderation, a necessary restraint because her recipes were fully loaded with butter, cream and marbled beef.
And that sense of humor.
To viewers after she flipped an omelet onto the stove: "Well, that didn't go very well. But you can always pick it up if you're alone. Who's going to see?"
In the wake of food phobia: "The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook."
About her late start as a chef: "I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate."
So did we, until we met Julia Child.
French Onion Soup
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light olive oil or peanut oil
8 cups (21/2 pounds) thinly sliced onions
1/2 teaspoon each salt and sugar
2 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 quart beef stock, at least 2 cups of which should be hot
4 to 5 tablespoons Cognac, Armagnac or other good brandy
1 cup dry white French vermouth
Set a saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil; when the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover the pan and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. When well blended, bring to a simmer, adding the rest of the stock, the Cognac or brandy, and the vermouth. Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 11/2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much. Correct seasoning.
Ahead-of-time note: May be prepared in advance; chill uncovered, then cover and refrigerate or freeze.
Serve the soup as it is, accompanying it with French bread and a bowl of grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese, or gratine it as follows. Makes about 21/2 quarts, serving 6.
VARIATION: When onion soup is a main course, bake it in the oven with cheese and toasted French bread, and bring it all crusty and bubbling to the table. A big salad, more bread and cheese, and fruit could finish the meal, accompanied by a bottle or two of fruity white wine, like a sauvignon blanc or even a gewurztraminer.
Source: "The Way to Cook" by Julia Child (Alfred Knopf, 1989).
American Masters: Chef Julia Child changed the way people cook, eat and think about food. 8 tonight on WEDU-Ch. 3. The Food Network is planning a daylong tribute on Sunday, rerunning shows featuring Child. Shows air from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.