Serves 6 to 8
Onion soups date back to the ancient Greek and Roman times and modern French soup is a descendant of medieval soup recipes. Legend has it that the first French onion soup was developed by King Louis XV of France. He wanted a snack late one evening but had only butter, onions, and champagne in his hunting lodge pantry. Go figure.
French onion soup has come a long way since then and “modern” onion soup features rich caramelized onions in beef broth with croutons (“croutes”) and a browned bubbly Gruyere cheese topping. Though time is a major (and mandatory) ingredient in developing the flavors of this loved classic, you won’t believe how quickly these molten cheese-encrusted delights will disappear from your dinner table!
6 cups (about 1½ to 2 pounds) yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
1 cup wine (dry red or white)
1 bay leaf, fresh if available
½ teaspoon ground sage
Salt and pepper to taste
12 ounces gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, grated
4 ounces parmesan (or other hard) cheese, grated
2 to 3 tablespoons good cognac
8 slices baguette, sliced diagonally about 1” thick
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Melt butter in pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the butter, then sweat them until translucent.
3. To caramelize the onions, turn up heat to medium high. Add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. This important step should take about 20-30 minutes to achieve critical color and flavor.
4. Once onions are caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add the flour. Brown the flour for a couple minutes being careful not to scorch it.
5. Stir in about a cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the yummy cooked-on bits (known as “fond”). Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf to the soup, and simmer for 15-20 minutes to further marry and develop flavor.
6. While the soup is simmering, make the croutes by drizzling a bit of olive oil on each side of the bread slices, placing on a baking sheet, and baking in preheated oven until each side is golden and crisp.
7. Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Add the cognac. Add a few ounces of the grated cheese directly into the soup and stir.
8. To serve, transfer to 6 to 8 individual ramekins or soup bowls, depending on how robust a serving size you prefer. Place a couple of the croutes in a single layer on top of the soup, submerging them briefly to saturate with liquid. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Place serving bowls back in warm oven and broil to melt and brown the cheese. Serve bubbly hot, and don’t forget to indulge in my favorite part, the crispy melted cheese clinging to the sides of the bowl!