I can remember the first time I had the amazingness that is French Onion Soup. It was at Applebees. I know, I know, not fancy, and probably not the best place to have your first encounter with such a rich soup; definitely not my best bowl of it either. But I can say that it was love at first bite. It was brothy and cheesy, and there was bread - already in the soup! Can't beat that! I've had many bowls since then, and when I sat down then other day to make a list of soups that I still really wanted to try, I knew this had to be on there. I found this recipe in my Williams-Sonoma "Soup" book, and was so surprised at how simple it really was to make...aside from learning the true art of caramelizing onions (and realizing that I'd been doing it wrong this whole time!).
What you will need:
-2 tbsp olive oil or grapeseed oil
-4 red onions, thinly sliced (I used our mandolin slicer on the thinnest setting and it was perfect)
-1/4 tsp sugar
-2 leeks (including tender green parts) thinly sliced
-2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-8 cups of broth - we used chicken, but you can use vegetable broth for a vegetarian version, or for more traditional flavor, use beef broth.
-1/2 cup of dry white wine
-1 bay leaf
-1/4 tsp dried thyme
-salt and fresh ground pepper
-baguette slices, cut about 1/2 - 1/4 inch thick depending on your bowl, and how large your baguette is.
-3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
How to make it:
In a large pot, warm your olive oil on medium heat. Add in your onions and saute them. Stir occasionally until they are clear and wilted throughout. This takes longer than you think, about 10-15 minutes, and is just the start of the caramelization process. It takes time and patience, but trust me, do it and you won't regret it. Once the onions are wilty, add in the sugar to aid in caramelizing and add in your leeks. Now you'll want to start stirring frequently to allow for even cooking. Continue to cook and stir in this way for about 20-30 minutes. You will see the onions start to brown and caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until onions and leeks are tender and the browning is even throughout. Go ahead and give it a taste if you aren't sure. There is an undeniable sweetness when it's ready.
Mix in your garlic and stir for another minute or so. Now add in your broth, wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Partially cover your pot and allow it to simmer until the flavors are married in wedded bliss - about 30 minutes. Go ahead and taste it just to make sure, and add in some salt and pepper to taste.
When your soup is ready, turn your oven broiler on high. Ladle your soup into oven-safe bowls and top it with 2-3 slices of your baguette and cover with cheese. Place them in the oven, with the cheese being about 6 inches away from the flame. Broil for about 5-6 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and it looks absolutely picture perfect (OK, maybe not picture perfect, but it will look delicious, I promise). Carefully remove them from the oven, and enjoy with a light, green salad for dinner, or in smaller bowls as a savory appetizer.
The Verdict: Success. Each bite was like reliving my first French Onion Soup experience only better because a) I made it, and b) it wasn't at Applebees. This one was definitely a winner!
What we'd do differently: While we really liked the flavor the leeks added to the soup, the greenery just wasn't consistent with traditional French Onion Soup. It has a different texture as well. Trying this soup again next time (there WILL be a next time!) I would use red onion and brown onion or maybe just the white part of the leeks and not the green bits, just to stay on the more traditional side. I'd also like to try it with veggie broth... and with beef broth.