Wintertime is the perfect time for warm soups, and as we are all staying inside waiting for the weather to clear and the virus to leave, soup that provides a dose of comfort might be just what the doctor ordered.
Our recommendation: French onion soup. It’s easier than you think! And the gratinée part is the icing on the cake: toasted bread topped with oven-melted cheese on top of the soup!
The secret to a rich and savory onion soup is the traditional French combination of flavors: onions sautéed in butter and a veal-based stock (soup base). The veal stock – a broth made with bones and meat – is the most flavorful kind of stock and gives that hearty flavor you expect in a soupe à l’oignon. Similarly, a “brown stock” (also consisting of meat and bones) may be substituted. The thicker (more gelatinous) the stock, the richer the soup. (You can find all these recipes in my book, The Bordeaux Kitchen.) Substituting with a vegetable stock is of course possible, but you miss out on flavor and the collagen-boosting and gut-healing gelatin present in bone broths.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
4 tablespoons butter or ghee or lard)
1 pound (450 g) yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
4 cups (about 1 L) veal or other stock
2 cups (about 1/2 L) water
6 slices of bread about the diameter of your individual soup bowls
7 ounces (200 g) Gruyère or Emmental cheese, grated
Melt the butter in a cast-iron pot over medium to medium-high heat and add the onions, salt, and pepper. Allow the onions to turn translucent and brown over 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and water to the pot and bring to a brief boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow to simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Preheat the oven to 395˚F (200˚C).
Ladle the soup into each individual soup bowl, and top each with a slice of bread. Divide the cheese among the serving bowls, sprinkling a portion over each slice of bread. Heat the soup bowls in the oven for two to three minutes, until the cheese bubbles a bit and browns around the edges.
Be careful removing the soup bowls from the oven. Serve hot on an unheated individual serving plate for easier handling.
Wine Pairing Tip:
For a French Southwest pairing, try an aromatic Bergerac, with notes of black and red currant and made from a similar blend to that of a Bordeaux, giving the wine a solid tannic structure.
You could also try pairing a Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, or Sylvaner from Alsace, as these dry whites are typically served with sulphurous foods like onions and cabbage in Alsace. Also consider trying either a white, floral Savagnin or a red, fruity Arbois Rouge, from France’s Jura mountain region, where they really know how to eat melted cheese!
Tania Teschke is a writer and photographer who is passionate about French food and wine and is the author of The Bordeaux Kitchen,: An Immersion into French Food and Wine, Inspired by Ancestral Traditions. Tania has learned from cooks, butchers, chefs, and winemakers in France and holds a diploma in wine science and tasting from the University of Bordeaux. Tania continues to explore the deep connection the French have to their land, their cultural heritage, and to the nutritional density of their foods.