This simple adaptation of the classic French onion soup is a meal in itself—perfect for lunch or dinner. If you’ve got a free afternoon, making your own rich beef stock is a slow-food pleasure, but a store-bought brand will still deliver rich taste. Take the time to fully caramelize the onions at the start of this recipe—that’s where most of the active cooking time is needed and where the deep flavor develops. You’ll be well rewarded for the effort. This recipe is for a very large batch, enough for two or three meals, depending on how many people you’re serving. For the melted cheese topping, this twist on bread rounds is fun and easier to eat with a spoon!
For the soup:
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 5 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced into roughly ½” rounds
- Coarse salt
- 1/2 cup cognac
- 8 cups beef stock
- 1 cup dry vermouth
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the croutons:
- 10 baguette slices, about ½” thick, cut into cubes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
Caramelize the onions: Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Note: Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to work in batches or use two skillets at once. Add one tablespoon of the oil for every pound of onions you sauté at a time. As you place the onions in the pan, separate each slice into rounds. Toss the onions in the oil and then cover the pan to sweat the onions for about 10 minutes over low-medium heat, taking care not to burn them. Take off the cover, sprinkle the onions with large pinches of salt and sugar, and continue cooking until they become soft and browned, up to 50 minutes (the liquid in the pan will evaporate; add a tablespoon of water as needed to prevent burning). At the end of the cooking time, add the cognac to deglaze the pan and then transfer everything to a large stockpot.
To finish the soup: Add the beef stock and vermouth to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for another hour. Taste and add black pepper, if desired.
For the croutons: Just before serving the soup, turn on your oven to broil. Spread out the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and toast under the broiler, watching closely, as it should take only a few seconds. Very carefully, take the sheet out of the oven and use tongs to push the toasted croutons together. Sprinkle on the grated cheese and put back under the broiler until the cheese melts, again for only a few seconds.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls or wide mugs and, using tongs, top each with some cheesy croutons.
Yields 10-12 servings