Reposting from my old blog.
Onion soup is a lovely thing to make right after the onion harvest at end of season, when the weather’s just starting to cool down. Onion soup is also a lovely thing to start love stories with. Like ours, which certainly didn’t begin with onion soup, but has seen its share of this dish through the years. Our first real date (though with a group) was at the now-defunct 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant in St. Louis. My then-suitor invited me via a sweet 2-page note, hyping up the view of airplanes taking off and landing as “romantic”. I didn’t see anything romantic about airplanes doing what they do, but whatever. Well, everyone ordered this starter served in a crock like the one in the last photo. I fell for the crocks.
Now ubiquitous, French onion was in vogue at the time, served in a crock at the (also defunct) Famous-Barr‘s basement restaurant on Kingshighway and Chippewa in St. Louis. St. Louis Bread Company chose to serve it in sourdough bread bowls, crowned with golden melted cheese flecked with brown. You take the bread lid that’s served on the side and dip it in the soup, then you eat the soup, then you eat the bowl it came in. Scrumptious and brilliant.
As a newlywed, I burned my hand making Julia Child’s version (in The Way to Cook) in our apartment one monthiversary. The soup had just finished its short foray into the broiler to melt the cheese and when I pulled the sheet bearing the cups (we didn’t have crocks) a bit too quickly and sloshed the boiling liquid right onto my wrist. My hubby promptly got butter and ice and ice water in a large bowl, and I ate dinner with one hand in the bowl and one hand holding my fork. Yeah, romantic indeed.
Our children all love French onion soup, and it’s one of our emergency meals, the closest SLBC (now Panera) a mere 5 minutes away. The homemade version, of course, is so much better, cheaper, and customizable. To make it, you’ll need:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 large onions, sliced thin (red and yellow combo is nice, as are Vidalias, and no need to get too fanatic about slicing evenly)
2 large pinches sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup wine, red or white (almost any dry wine will do, or sherry or French vermouth)
2 tablespoons flour (gluten-free instructions below)
1 French baguette, sliced and toasted
2 quarts beef broth or stock, or as some will debate, water
Grated Gruyere, I prefer Swiss over French, but your choice
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Pecorino or Grana Padano), optional
Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring every once in a while, until onions are limp and just beginning to brown.
Add the sugar, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, until onions are caramelized nicely, 20 minutes or so. Add garlic, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. I just stick the thyme sprigs in there — if you want to go through the trouble of picking the leaves off the stem, be my guest, but I don’t usually bother as the leaves tend to fall off anyway in the cooking and I can fish out the stems easily enough later. Cook a few minutes more. Add wine and bring to a boil by turning up the heat. When boiling, reduce heat and simmer until wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over, and cook about 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the beef broth and bring back to a boil. When boiling, lower heat to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes more.
While soup is cooking, toast bread slices and grate the cheeses.
Fish out the bay leaves and thyme sprigs and you’re done! Ladle into crocks or individual soup bowls, top with toasted bread slices and sprinkle on the cheeses. I prefer Swiss Gruyere and try to find the real thing as I find locally produced ones too salty. I do like the touch of Parmigiano on top. You can also use use grated or sliced Swiss cheese (holey or not), or any yellow melty cheese for the top, like Mozzarella or Provolone.
Amusing trivia I found while researching for this post: the French/Swiss Gruyere Cheese war.
Broil for 3 minutes or so, just until cheese is melted and top is golden.
Gluten-free note: If you wish to make this gluten-free, besides subbing gluten-free bread slices for the bread, omit the flour and thicken the soup instead, right before ladling, with some tapioca, arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in some water. Bring the soup to a boil again and stir the starch mixture in to incorporate and cook a few more minutes. Taste to make sure the soup doesn’t have any raw starch taste before serving.
The Lyon(s), France version of this is known to be particularly thick and rich, so preparing this dish would be a great way to celebrate St. John Vianney‘s Feast Day on August 4.
It’s also perfect for our meatless days during the Lenten season.