Wednesday, February 01, 2012

French Sweet Onion Soup with or without Extras: Posh Warm Comfort for a Cold Day

I can't explain the comfort of a French onion soup on a cold day—it's one of those taste-blasts, a hearty, buttery, savory treat you must experience yourself. This delightful soup—with the twists of sweet onions and perhaps some extra veggies you have on hand—is a winner with everyone (yes, you can make it vegetarian with a vegetable soup stock as the base).
  • 4 medium sweet onions (such as walla-walla, Maui sweets, vidalia, etc.), sliced
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 5 cups good beef broth (I use "Better than Bouillon" from Superior Touch, reconstituted with water. For vegetarian, use a veggie broth)
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • Herbes de Provence, to taste (or thyme, lavender, sage, etc.)
  • Salt and ground pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan
  • 4 slices bread, toasted and cut into cubes (to make croutons)

Sauté the onions in the butter in a nonstick frying pan for about 15 minutes. They should be soft and sweetly caramelized. Add the herbes de Provence, beef broth and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a slow boil then reduce the heat to low and let simmer at least 15 minutes. After cooking remove from heat and splash in the cognac.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and chop it into cubes to make croûtons. Set aside. Grate the hard cheese and set aside. Take four ramekins or other oven-proof bowls and ladle 1/4 of the soup in each. Sprinkle 1/4 of the croûtons on each soup bowl and then, 1/4 of the cheese on top of that. Lastly, place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts and is bubbly, around five minutes.

Note: You can jazz this up by adding chopped veggies to the soup while it is boiling: carrots and celery are natural additions, but what about fresh spinach, Swiss chard, or even fennel? Asparagus in one-inch chunks, and ooh--mushrooms!
Also, to beef it up, add in cooked, chopped beef, such as leftover steak or roast. If you really want to knock some socks off, prepare one filet mignon by sauteeing it and then cubing it. So tender and tasty in this soup! Another idea--meatballs--wow!
A vegetarian treat? Try sauteed cubed tofu or tempeh (and vegetable soup stock, as noted above).

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