My dad is hands-down the most fabulous cook I've ever known. From duck confit, to cioppino, to the perfect caesar salad, there's not one dish that my dad hasn't mastered in his years of cooking and feeding his family. But one of my absolute favorites is his famous Soupe à l’Oignon or French Onion Soup. It's France's most famous peasant dish: all you need is a few robust onions, a good broth, a crust of stale bread, and some pungent cheese. Put this motley crew of ingredients together and you have one of the most delicious, warming elixirs in the world.
Ingredients (serves 4)
5 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt, plus additional to taste
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (helps the onions to brown)
6 cups homemade beef or other brown stock
1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy
1 to 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (or if preferred, a mix of 1/2 comte, 1/4 mozzarella, and 1/4 parmesean)
8 1-inch thick rounds of bread (French bread or sourdough) toasted until crispy
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes.
Uncover the pot, raise the heat to medium and stir in sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes until they have turned an even, deep golden brown. This is the most time-consuming portion of this recipe. Maintain your patience until the onions develop a good, deep caramelized brown. This is where the deep oniony flavor comes from.
Delicious caramelized onions...
After the onions are fully caramelized, add the wine and begin to scrape down the bottom and sides of the pot to remove the preciously flavorful brown bits. Add the stock a cup at a time, stirring between additions, and continuing to dissolve brown bits on the sides of the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. Add cognac and bring back up to heat, cooking until the alcohol has dissipated (about 5 minutes)
Prepare four oven-safe soup bowls or mugs by placing one round of toasted bread in the bottom. Add soup. Top with another round of toasted bread. Add a heaping pile of grated cheese on top of the crouton. Place mugs under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to develop delicious brown spots. Serve immediately.