I wish I was exaggerating, but it hasn’t stopped raining in over three weeks. We did get a short break this weekend – a few hours of pure, blue sky – but the winds shifted and the afternoon rains returned. My car is filthy, the grass is overgrown, and the excitement over my lush herb garden does not make up for the fact that it’s been so dreary and humid. A few weeks back, I tried invoking Murphy (of the law fame) by making a pot of French Onion soup thinking that if I made soup to comfort us, the rain would magically disappear. That did not work out too well! On the bright side, Julia Child’s recipe was completely worth making, despite its lack of weather altering powers.
The soup’s soul might be the onions and beef stock, but the depth comes from layering dry vermouth (my go-to substitute for dry white wines) and a bit of cognac in the end. I took just one liberty from Mrs. Child’s recipe as published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and added a fat pinch of herbes de Provence to the onions after they turned golden brown. I did not have any Gruyére or Emmental cheese on hand, so I melted mozzarella on top of toast made of the very last bit of a homemade bread loaf I stashed in the freezer. The mild mozzarella may have not created the nutty contrast associated with the more traditional cheese additions, but I liked that I could really taste the soup.
Soupe à L’Oignon
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking; scaled for three main course servings
- 3 cups thinly sliced onions
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Melt the butter and the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and coat them in the fats. Cover the pot and lower the heat. Let the onions seat for fifteen to twenty minutes.
After this initial cooking period has elapsed, the onions will be wilted but soft with no color. Turn the heat back to medium, add the salt and sugar, and stir until the onions caramelize. This part of the process is the most laborious at 30+ minutes. If bits of onion burn a little, don’t worry about it too much.
In this time pocket, begin preparing the broth to be added to the onions.
- 1 quart beef stock
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- 1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
- 1.5 tablespoon Cognac
Combine the liquids and bring them up to a boil. When the onions are golden, stir in the flour and herbs de Provence and cook for at least two minutes in order to eliminate any raw flour taste. Carefully add in the stock mixture, stirring to dissolve the flour. Adjust the seasonings and let the soup simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the Cognac and adjust the seasonings to taste, keeping in mind the saltiness of the cheese to be melted on top.
- Rounds of crusty bread, pre-toasted
- Grated Emmental, Gruyére, or mozzarella cheese for melting
Preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, arranged in a baking sheet. I like using a silicon mat to prevent the bowls from sliding. Pour in the soup and nestle a slice of bread on top. Cover generously with cheese and bake until the cheese melts browns slightly, at least five minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven – the bowls will be hot.
As the summer progresses, I’ll be experimenting with gazpacho and vichyssoise because sometimes the rain brings out the worst of the tropical temperatures. Got any favorite chilled soups for the summer? Let me know in the comments section!