As I continue to seek the intersection between winter produce and hearty, warming fare that is not too heavy, French onion soup lands in the bullseye.
It can be made vegetarian, contains simple, pantry-ready ingredients, and delivers a comforting yet elegant meal. It can also be made ahead and dressed up with the toast topping right before serving. The key to creating the depth of flavor that takes the soup from good to sublime is to ensure that the onions caramelize. This takes time and patience, but not too much hard labor.
The dish is versatile. If you prefer a dairy dish, sauté the onions in butter, use vegetable stock and top the soup with crusty bread and melted gruyere cheese. If you crave a heartier broth, feel free to use chicken or beef stock, and top it with crusted bread drizzled with olive oil. Or go vegan and use an olive oil sauté, vegetable stock and crusty bread.
The version below offers a work around on serving; I do not own those oven-proof crock-style bowls that are the traditional vessels for onion soup. Nor do I have cabinet space for them. And I confess to being a bit reticent about pulling a tray of steaming, full soup bowls in and out of a hot oven.
So I just prepare the toast separately and float it atop the soup bowl. So far, I have received no complaints. But if you are a traditionalist, or if you have those snazzy bowls, you can ladle the soup into them, place the bread, then the cheese (if using) on top of the soup, and either zap it quickly under a broiler on a cookie sheet, or bake it in a hot oven (425) for about 10 minutes.
Either way, the soup is crowd-pleasing, simple and delicious.
Two to four servings, depending on portion size and what else is being served
- 4 onions, peeled and sliced
- ½ stick butter or margarine or ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 quart stock (vegetable, beef or chicken)
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Four thick slabs of crusty bread
- Optional: slices of gruyere or any type of Swiss-style cheese
In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, place the butter or oil and melt it over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about three minutes.
Turn the heat to low, and continue cooking for about 30 minutes until the onions are brown, soft and almost starting to break apart. Stir occasionally throughout this process.
Add the sherry and stir to blend, then add the stock. Simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt and pepper, if needed.
Before serving, toast the bread, and, if using, melt the cheese on each slice. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top with the prepared bread. Serve immediately.