Saturday, August 1, 2009

French Onion Soup

We have received so many fresh sweet onions from our CSA share that I developed a craving for some French onion soup. According to Wikipedia: “Onion soups have been popular at least as far back as Roman times. They were, throughout history, seen as food for the poor people, as onions were plentiful and easy to grow. The modern version of this soup originates in France in the 18th century.” This is a classic comfort food, with the wonderful sweet flavor of caramelized onions topped with fresh crusty baguette slices and browned, melted cheese.

I used sweet yellow onions instead of red onions, since that’s what I had, and I bought farm fresh leeks and a baguette from the farmer’s market. The process of caramelization requires a bit of patience—it takes about 30-45 minutes to allow enough time for the sugars in the onions to develop and brown, but that’s what gives the sweet, complex flavor in this soup.

While beef stock is the traditional way to make this soup, you could substitute chicken stock for a lighter version or vegetable stock for vegetarian.

French Onion Soup, Williams-Sonoma Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
4 large red onions, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon sugar
4 leeks, including tender green portions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups beef or chicken stock or prepared broth
½ cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 baguette slices, each ¼ inch thick
¾ cup shredded Gruyère or Comté cheese

In a large non-aluminum saucepan over medium-low heat, warm
the oil. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 15 minutes. Add the sugar and leeks and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until richly colored and caramelized, 30 to 45 minutes. (You may need to increase the heat to medium to add some color at the end.)

Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock, wine, bay leaf and thyme. Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

To serve, preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into individual flameproof soup bowls. Place 2 or 3 slices of bread on top of each bowl and sprinkle with the cheese. Slide under the broiler about 6 inches from the heat element. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

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