Food & Drink

French onion a perfect soup for the season

French onion is one of those soups in which all of its parts come together in every spoonful.
French onion is one of those soups in which all of its parts come together in every spoonful. TNS

Nothing feeds the soul quite like soup.

Most soups are hearty in both taste and texture. And one of the best things about soups: You can make a meal out of them. Add a salad and some crusty bread and dinner is served.

One of my favorites this time of year is a classic – French onion soup.

According to, the French onion soup with bread and cheese on top is a “direct descendant of modern French bouillon crafted in the 17th century.” Onions were used because they were common and worked with many cooking methods.

French onion is one of those soups in which all of its parts come together in every spoonful. There are the onions that get their sweet flavor from being cooked down so they release their natural sugar. Any onion, from white to sweet to yellow cooking onions, will suffice. When the sugars release from the onions, they melt and become caramelized.

Once those sugars caramelize, the onions become translucent and golden brown. Don’t overcook the onions until dark brown or crisp – they will burn and the soup will taste burned. When you see the color start to change, taste the onion to judge its sweetness.

I like to slice the onions in half circles a good 1/4 inch thick so they are discernible. If you slice them too thin, they will cook down to next to nothing. It will take about 30 to 40 minutes for the onions to caramelize. Watch the heat, making sure it’s about medium. And stir only every so often. If you stir the onions constantly, they won’t caramelize properly.

Most onion soups have beef broth or beef stock base, which add to their hearty taste. With store-bought broths and stocks or soup bases or bouillon, I always use reduced-sodium versions. One brand of reduced-sodium soup base that I like is Better Than Bouillon. It’s sold in a 3 1/2-ounce jar and you use 1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of boiling water. (The brand also offers chicken, vegetable and mushroom bases.)

When it comes to the cheese, the type matters. Most recipes call for Gruyere, a cow’s milk cheese with a slightly nutty flavor, but you can use many kinds of cheese. The original version of today’s recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart Halloween magazine, October 2011) calls for Morbier, a creamy and mild cow’s milk cheese from France. I used Muenster, a good melting cheese. Other semisoft cheeses, like fontina or a creamy havarti, can be substituted.

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Onion Soup With Muenster Cheese

Adapted from Martha Stewart, October 2011 issue.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds yellow onions, peeled, thinly sliced into half circles

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sherry

8 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef or vegetable broth

4 sprigs thyme

1/4 cup port wine (optional)

1/2 French baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 clove garlic, cut in half

6 slices (about 1 ounce each) Muenster or Gruyere cheese

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until dark golden and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; continue boiling until the sherry is reduced by half.

Add the broth and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until onions are very soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in port, if using.

Meanwhile, heat broiler with oven rack in the middle position. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil until lightly toasted. Remove from the broiler and rub the cut side of the garlic on the slices.

When the soup is done, turn the broiler back on and ladle the soup into 6-ounce ramekins. Top each with a toasted baguette slice or two. Drape cheese on top of bread so it hangs over the edge of the ramekin slightly. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until cheese is browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.

Per serving: 243 calories (44 percent from fat), 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 20 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein, 789 mg sodium, 20 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber.

Yield: 6 servings.