I have a confession to make: the first time I had French onion soup was last year.
I know, I know. I’m 24-years-old. I’ve been to France. I’ve been to Panera. What can I say? It never appealed to me. Since it was essentially just onions floating in broth, I didn’t think it would be anything special. When my college roommates drooled over bread bowls full of hot, melty cheese bathing in sweet, caramelized onions, I scoffed and ate chicken noodle. And then I started working at The Bar.
I spent a lot of time at The Bar, since I was a) broke, and b) a fairly decent waitress with literally no scheduling restrictions. I ate more meals than I can count at that bar, and there are only so many grilled cheese sandwiches and Greek salads a girl can eat. Sometimes, especially on the dreary, rainy Mondays where no one felt compelled to come in for lunch and entertain me, I needed some soup. Unfortunately, The Bar’s two daily soups were potato leek (which violates one of my closely-held soup theories) and French onion. And if the soup of the day happened to be something vile like tomato or, gasp, seafood bisque, then soup was off the list of options completely.
But after months of serving crocks of hot French onion soup covered in a layer of gooey, golden-brown cheese and watching my customers crack through to the glorious broth beneath, I had to have it.
So on a particularly slow day, when I knew I’d have time to savor the cheesy, bready goodness, I ordered some French onion. And oh my God, the cheese. The soft, chewy bits of bread. The sweet, sweet slivers of onion. It was immediately the richest, most decadent soup I’d ever had in my life – so much so, that I couldn’t even finish the bowl.
And so I became a convert – a French Onion Soup Lover. I realized, not for the first time, just how many of us there are. For me, it’s all about the broth-soaked bread and gobs of hot cheese floating amongst the onions. It’s such a luxurious soup. For others, like my (crazy) friend who orders it sans cheese and bread, it’s about the soup itself, not the fixins. However you like it, this soup is not only best kind of dinner, it’s also extremely easy to make. Not necessarily the fastest dinner on record, but certainly one of the least labor-intensive.
I didn’t necessarily plan to make this last night when I came home, which is why there was literally no forethought or trip to the store involved. Yet, when I come home unsure of what I’d like to eat for dinner, I tend to dump some onions, garlic, and butter/oil into a pan and give myself a minute to think. And yesterday, that’s pretty much as far as it got – my pan of garlic butter and onions just stewed away for a half hour as I nonchalantly sipped my (White! I’m trying to learn to appreciate it!) wine and basically failed to come up with anything I felt like eating. So, one pan of caramelized onions and 30 minutes later, I dumped half of my glass of wine into the pan, whipped out some beef broth, and called it French onion soup. Despite the fact that it was topped with regular, sliced, whole-wheat bread and shredded pizza cheese (Seriously – I am not making this up. I used what I had, and Gruyere and baguette were not in my kitchen.), it was damn good.
Although, to be fair, I’m definitely going to make an effort to include better bread next time.
French Onion Soup
This is, quite obviously, the quick version. Should you have time to make your own beef stock, caramelize the onions even slower, or, I don’t know, bake your own baguette, my hat is off to you and I have no doubt that your soup could beat up my soup. However, for those of us who attempt to work 10-hour days, go to the gym, and eat the dinner they cook before 9PM, this is the way it’s gotta be. My deepest apologies.
3 tbsp butter (I used garlic and herb butter, but regular butter would, I’m sure, be just fine. I have Whole Foods to blame for the presence of these extravagant purchases cluttering the fridge.)
1 large red onion (I love red onions, but use whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups beef stock
2 sprigs of thyme, with leaves removed from stems
Salt and pepper
2 slices of bread
Cheese (2 slices, 2 handfuls of shredded, etc)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan (everything’s going to happen in this pan, so make sure it can hold 2+ cups of liquid easily) over medium heat. While it melts, slice the onion in half, then in half again (you should wind up with four pieces that all have some of the root attached to hold the whole shebang together). Peel off the outermost layer of skin, then slice the onion as thin as you’re able. You should wind up with a big pile of tiny onion slices. Add the onions and salt them liberally. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, for 30-40 minutes (adjust the heat if you feel they may burn – all stoves heat differently). The onions will soften, then become transparent, then begin to brown – you want them to brown completely without burning, so let them cook well beyond what you normally would.
Once the onions are caramelized, add the thyme leaves and white wine. The pan will sizzle pretty violently when the wine hits it. Stir occasionally and let the mixture cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the liquid is mostly gone. Add the beef broth and bring the pot to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat back to medium and cook for another 10-20 minutes or so to let the flavors meld.
During this final stage of cooking, preheat your oven to 350 (You could also use your broiler to brown the cheese instead of just melting it, but I baked it, so that’s what we’re learning today, mkay?) and get 2 oven-safe dishes ready (No oven-safe cookware? Shippy, shippy shame! Run out and get some immediately! Or, you know, use your microwave to melt the cheese…who’s going to know??). Once the oven is hot and you’ve cooked the soup for a bit, taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle soup into both bowls, lay one slice of bread in each, and sprinkle cheese on top. Heat in the oven for 5 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted on top.