some days are soup days. no explanations necessary.
and soup is a delightful thing. on a soup day, there are no possible substitutions. nothing else can warm a soul that is chilled to the bone, a body that is weary, or a heart that needs comforting. and many soups can do this job quite well. some days require simple, beautiful tomato soup (grilled cheese optional but encouraged). other days i want to feel like a real boston girl and enjoy some fresh new england clam chowder. and my vegetable minestrone is a favorite in our house for a hearty meal that still fills the soup criteria.
but yesterday was a french onion soup kind of day. the dogs were cranky, my husband has been traveling far too much, and spring keeps teasing us by poking its head out, looking around, and then ducking when boston gets nailed with another half a foot of snow.
i’m craving greenery. i’m so tired of white and gray, of big, ugly snow boots and too many layers. i can’t
wait to see buds on the trees, to spot flowers slowly unfurling from the earth, and to savor that delicious, indescribably gorgeous scent that always lingers when spring is approaching. you know what i’m talking about. winter smells pretty too, but i’m ready for a new fragrance.
but until spring actually arrives, we must content ourselves with the comforting flavors of almost-spring… i.e. warm, boozy, sweet, salty and fragrant french onion soup. with bread and cheese on top. and a glass of wine on the side.
i’m a simple girl. bread, cheese, onions, and wine – that’s pretty much all that i need to keep me happy.
this recipe is essentially julia’s, with a few modifications. i used homemade turkey stock, but you’re free to substitute chicken stock or more beef stock (or use a hearty vegetable or mushroom stock if you don’t eat meat). also, this soup is so good on its own that you don’t technically need to top it with the crouton and cheese…but i’m never one to turn down bread and cheese.
(let’s not pretend this is a healthy meal. soup days are not days that we count calories.)
classic french onion soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 tbsp butter
5 cups sliced onions
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp flour
1 cup white wine (i like to use chardonnay but do what you want)
2 cups beef stock
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp brandy or cognac
salt and pepper, to taste (if necessary)
a few thick slices of crusty bread
2 tbsp butter
8 oz gruyère cheese, grated
in a large saucepan or stockpot, heat oil and butter until melted. add the onions and cook covered, on low heat, for 10-15 minutes. uncover and add sugar and salt. turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized a deep, even brown, about 40 minutes. (this is a good time to put on fun music or reruns of your favorite television show, because while your house is going to smell amazing, it’s a little boring stirring onions and waiting for them to brown*.)
once onions are browned, add flour and stir, allowing to cook for another 3 minutes. add minced garlic and worcestershire sauce, and cook for another minute before adding wine, beef stock, and turkey stock. cover partially and simmer for another 30-40 minutes. add brandy, salt and pepper to taste if needed, and you’re done.
at this point, if you’re making the soup ahead (which i highly recommend but rarely have the strength to accomplish), let it cool and put it away. the flavor will just continue to deepen and develop until you’re ready to eat. if you’re like me and can’t resist the fragrance that will be filling your home, move on to the next step.
spread thick slices of crusty bread with butter and toast until crunchy. spoon soup into oven-safe bowls and top with bread and a generous amount of gruyère. place on a baking sheet and pop these under the broiler until cheese is bubbling and golden brown. eat immediately.
*cook’s illustrated has developed a method of caramelizing onions in the oven, which appears to work very well. my dutch oven isn’t large enough, but if you try it, please report back!