I like to make soup frequently in the winter. Not only is it warm and comforting, but it also gives me an extra outlet for freshly-baked breads, since just about every soup is better with a bit of bread dipped into it. French onion soup is one soup that bread is essential to because the traditional way to finish off the soup is with a layer of melty gruyere cheese and you really need a toasted piece of bread underneath to hold it up! French onion soup also happens to be one of my favorite soups to make because it is surprisingly easy to put together.
The soup starts out with thinly sliced onions, cooked in a large pot over medium-low heat until they are a deep, golden brown. Caramelizing onions takes quite a bit of time to do, especially with a huge batch of onions, but it is necessary to release all the natural sweetness of the onions and is crucial in producing a good soup. You can use pretty much any kind of white or yellow onion. I often use a combination of sweet Vidalia onions and regular yellow onions. Once the onions are done, beef broth/stock is added in, along with a bit of thyme and some salt and pepper, and all you have to do is wait until it comes together.
I’ve seen recipes that are more involved, or add more flavorings to the soup, but I’ve found that this one is rich and satisfying. Start with a good beef broth, lots of onions, and have bread and cheese at the ready – and you’ll definitely have a satisfying soup on your hands.
Easy French Onion Soup
2 tbsp butter
6 medium-large white or yellow onions
1 cup water
6 cups good-quality beef stock
salt and pepper
thick baguette slices, toasted
sliced gruyere or havarti cheese
Cut onions in half, peel of dry outer layer, and slice onions thinly into approx. 1/4-inch slices.
Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add in butter, onions and a large pinch of salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they are a deep golden brown and very tender, about 30-45 minutes. The onions will probably stick to the bottom of the pan in some places, and smaller pieces may even brown so much as to look slightly burnt – don’t worry.
Add 1 cup of water to the pot to deglaze, rubbing any stuck-on bits off with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add in beef broth, thyme and season with pepper and additional salt, to taste.
Cover the pot and bring soup to a simmer. Turn heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes to help the flavors meld before serving.
Under the broiler, melt a piece of cheese onto a piece of toast for each bowl you will be serving. When cheese has melted, use a spatula to transfer toast to a bowl of soup and serve.
If you have oven-safe bowls, toast and cheese can be placed on top of the soup and the whole thing can be put under the broiler to melt cheese.
Serves 6-8, either as a main course or a first course.
Note: I used Wolfgang Puck’s Beef Stock the last few times I made this soup and had good results. Use any brand of beef broth or beef stock you like (or homemade, if you have some on hand).