Who doesn’t like onion soup? My older daughter for one. She actually doesn’t like anything with onions. I can’t understand her taste, because for me a well-made bowl of onion soup topped with a crisp round of garlic crouton and melted Gruyère cheese approaches the perfect simple evening meal. The problem is that there is many a bowl of not-well-made soup. The dehydrated variety doesn’t even really qualify as soup, and the canned sort is not much better. Sometimes you see a version of onion soup in the steam table on a buffet line. That, too, is usually not very appealing. And all of this is too bad because the real thing is so easy to make.
Julia Child showed Americans how to make a good soup, along with a lot of her other revelations on good cooking. From time to time we still watch Julia making soup on a black-and-white DVD of her early shows I got as a gift from my children many years ago. I also check out her classic recipe in our tattered, disintegrating copy of Volume One of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (pages 43-45). As is always the case, Julia took no shortcuts, and her instructions can sometimes appear daunting. Those may be the reasons that onion soup is not a mainstay of most kitchens. Another reason may be that the soup is viewed by modern cooks as a bit old-fashioned. I say too bad to that! The final reason may be that many, like my daughter, don’t like onions. That remains a mystery to me.
The version that follows is a riff on Julia Child’s recipe, but I have tried to simplify preparation a bit so that you can whip up soup in the afternoon for dinner in the evening. Add some crusty French bread and fresh butter along with a bottle of chilled dry white wine, and you have everything you need for a relaxing evening at home.
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 medium yellow onions, slice as thinly as possible (use a mandoline)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 Tablesoons all-purpose flour
- 4 Cups beef stock (home-made or packaged)
- ½ Cup dry, white vermouth
- pepper to taste
- 4 half-inch slices of French baguette
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half crosswise
- 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated coarsely
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan with lid. Add the onions and salt. Stir and cover to sweat the onions. Be careful not to let them burn.
- When the onions are translucent and soft, remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium-high, and stir in the sugar.
- Stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, caramelize the onions until they are golden brown. They will not begin to brown until most of the liquid has boiled off. Be very careful not to let the onions burn.
- When you are satisfied with the color of the onions, add the flour, stirring until the onions are completely coated. Cook a few minutes so that the flou loses its raw taste.
- Add the beef stock and vermouth; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover and turn the heat to simmer so that the mixture just barely bubbles every few seconds. Simmer for at least two hours.
- While the soup is simmering, prepare the croutons by placing the baguette slices on a sheet pan in an oven preheated to 200°. Bake until the bread has dried out a bit. Then remove from the oven and scrape the cut garlic over both sides of the bread slices. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the bread has completely dried and turned a light brown color. Remove from the oven, cool the croutons, and set aside.
- When your soup has simmered long enough, ladle it into four oven-proof soup bowls. Top each bowl with a garlic crouton and cover with the grated cheese.
- Place the bowls on a sheet pan and slide under a pre-heated broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese is melted and – if you prefer – lightly browned.
- Serve immediately.
Serves two if you’re really hungry or four if you would rather enjoy the wine.