A steaming bowl of French onion soup topped with melted Gruyere cheese – classic comfort food and a dinner solution for the craziness of this holiday week. Made ahead, it re-heats beautifully after a busy day of shopping, wrapping and getting ready for Christmas.
Peasant Food – Comfort Food
Historically considered peasant food, onion soups have been around since Roman times but it was the French who turned it into a classic dish.
Usually left to play a supporting role in everything from stocks, soups and stews, to salads and sauces, the humble onion becomes the star of the show in this soup. With slow cooking, onions become meltingly tender and sweet. When you start with sweet onions, like the Mayan Sweet or Oso Sweet (my favorites), it’s even better.
The Sweet Onion Source says although there is no official industry standard, it’s generally accepted that an onion should contain at least 6% sugar to be in the “sweet” category. Some sweet onions, like the OsoSweet, have recorded sugar levels of up to 15% whereas standard onions usually range from 3%-5%.
Besides tasting great, an added benefit to cooking with sweet onions is they don’t make you cry. No more bleary, stinging eyes from running tears and stopping to blow your nose.
To make the soup, start with 3 pounds of sweet onions. Cut them in half stem to root and slice crosswise into thin half rounds. For a rich flavor, I use both olive oil and unsalted butter to cook the onions. You can use all olive oil if you prefer.
Make the Soup
Cook the sliced onions over low heat in a heavy pot (like a Le Creuset Dutch Oven) with a little garlic, white wine, thyme sprigs and a bay leaf. After low and slow cooking for about 45-60 minutes, the onions are so tender they almost melt in your mouth. Add chicken or vegetable broth and heat through.
Just before serving, top with toasted homemade croutons (regular or gluten-free), grated Gruyere (cave-aged is best) and a little Parmesan. Melt under the broiler or use that blowtorch you only get out for Crème Brulee. Sprinkle with fresh chopped chives for garnish and fresh flavor.
A note on ingredients – I prefer using chicken broth versus the traditional beef broth for a lighter, golden soup. If you are a vegetarian, you can also use homemade vegetable broth. Here’s the place where homemade stock or broth really shine, but you can use your favorite canned or boxed brand in a pinch.
If you can’t find Mayan Sweets or OsoSweets, look for Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui onions. All are sweet varieties. Their sweetness varies. Find one that you like. What’s available changes with their growing seasons.
Other fun and helpful links:
History of Soup, from Wikipedia
Information on Mayan Sweet onions
Information on OsoSweet onions