With the Blizzard of 2010 back east and the torrential downpours we’ve had on the left coast, a soup for each day of the week is the perfect antidote for the chill of winter. I’ve been stirring up comforting, steamy bowls of chicken noodle, chili, minestrone, and Tuscan bean. Perfect for quick weekday dinners or casual entertaining; soups are economical, simple to make, and usually require only one pot and a little bit of chopping and stirring.
Two blogs that I regularly read are the inspiration behind this French Onion Soup. First, I saw the recipe on An Edible Mosaic where Faith surprises and pleases her readers with “everyday fare with extraordinary flair” and, second, it was serendipity that I had a block of French Comté cheese and David Lebovitz, cookbook author, professional baker of 35 years and rock star among food bloggers, recently wrote about his visits to the Comté fruitières, where the cheese making begins, and the cave de affinages, the cavernous cellars where the cheese ripens. David combines a photo journalistic approach and wry humor to inform readers about his adventures eating and living as an American in Paris. Anyone with an interest in food, particularly, French food, would find his posts interesting and educational, but because I’m able to travel with The Don to Paris now and then, I often refer to David’s posts to guide me in my fledgling explorations.
To make a long story short, I chose to use Comté instead of Gruyère cheese to top the French Onion Soup – if you’re like me, the cheesy crunchy crouton is the best part! And, Comté, also called Gruyère de Comté, is the richest and most popular cheese in France according to DK French Cheeses – perfect! “When it is cut, it reveals a firm and supple pâte that melts in the mouth, leaving a sweet taste. The salt is strong but balanced and the flavour has a nutty tang.”
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- dash of red pepper flakes
- 6 medium sized yellow onions thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 quart organic low-sodium beef stock*
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- French or multi-grain baguette sliced on the diagonal*
- 4 – 6 ounces grated Comté cheese
Thinly slice onions into rings or half rings. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil starts to ripple. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Add the onion, thyme and salt. Stir to coat the onions with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until the onion starts to soften and turn golden. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a rich caramel color. If the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water.
Add the beef stock and bay leaf and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the soup simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the broiler. Broil the bread on both sides until it’s lightly browned. Watch closely – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burnt the first batch!
Place the bowls on a rimmed cookie sheet. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with a crouton and sprinkle with grated cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted. bubbling and beginning to brown. This takes only a minute, so watch closely!
*Buy a good quality beef stock, if you don't make your own. Quality ingredients are the difference between delicious and not so much. I have substituted vegetable broth to make this vegetarian without any sacrifice in flavor.