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French Onion Soup simple, satisfying

By Karen Bjornland
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
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Spring is upon us. It’s time to go outdoors, feel the sun on our heads, and do some yard work. After a day in the cool April air, how about a nice bowl of French Onion Soup?

Unlike many wintertime soups and stews, French Onion doesn’t require hours on the stove. In less than an hour, you can dig into a golden crust of gooey cheese and toasted bread.

I’ve been making this simple, satisfying soup since the late 1970s, when I was a penniless grad student at Ohio State.

My friend Richard, a history student and kitchen wizard, was in love with a curious cookbook called “Sumptuous Indulgence on a Shoestring,” written and illustrated by David Yeadon.

Drawings of Yeadon’s alter-ego, a hefty, bearded man dressed in Renaissance garb, appeared on the pages, and his recipes for cheap but elegant eats included not only “Les Halles Onion Soup” but “Trout with Bananas,” “Oxtail Stew” and “Scotch Eggs.”

Yeadon went on to become a prominent adventure and travel writer for National Geographic, The New York Times and other notable publications, and now he lives in Westchester County.

A few weeks ago, I emailed Richard and thanked him for showing me how to make onion soup.

He still has Yeadon’s cookbook and, like me, he’s still making the soup and serves it in handled crocks from Bennington Potters.

“Though I don’t follow his recipe too closely,” he says. “Cook lots of chopped onions, and maybe some leeks, with a bit of garlic and black pepper in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Add stock. I use instant bouillon, veggie. Cook for awhile.”

“Toast thickly cut bread,” Richard continues. “Top with a mixture of grated Swiss cheese and Parmesan. Pop under a broiler.”

Onion soup is ancient history. But “soup a l’oignon” really got going in the 1700s in France, when the veggie broth was topped with croutons and Gruyere.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Americans discovered French cuisine, French onion soup was all the rage in restaurants.

But most restaurant versions are too salty and capped with an excess of cheese.

It’s really best to make it at home, especially since there so many ways to vary the recipe and make it your own.

In “Joy of Cooking,” onions are cooked in butter, French bread is topped with a mix of Parmesan and Gruyere, and a dash of cognac or dry sherry is suggested.

One of my favorite cookbooks is “Beverly’s Best” by Beverly Reedy, founder of the Beverly’s cafe that was on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs for many years. (Reedy’s son, Michael Bowman, now runs Beverly’s Eatery in Ballston Spa)

Reedy’s version uses Spanish onions and Worcestershire in the broth and Swiss cheese on top.

In Stockbridge, Mass., the Red Lion Inn calls their concoction “Baked Onion Soup,” although it’s made in the usual way. In Suzy Ford Chase’s “New Red Lion Cookbook,” onions are sautéed in olive oil and garlic powder, and the broth is made with more than two cups of burgundy, sherry and Marsala wine that’s spiked with thyme and rosemary. Only Parmesan cheese and a dash of paprika is required on the bread.

Dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, sourdough bread and Jarlsberg appear in the French Onion soup recipe on www.vegetariantimes.com.

And here is my time-worn recipe:

French Onion Soup with “Monster” cheese

Olive oil
Onions (one medium for each person)
Broth or bouillon, about two cups per bowl (I like vegetarian Better Than Bouillon)
Bragg Liquid Aminos (optional)
Rock Hill Peasant bread
Small block of Muenster

Mince onions in food processor. Sauté onions in olive oil until soft. Place in pot with broth and Bragg and simmer for about 30 minutes. While the onions and broth are cooking, cut the bread in pieces to fit each bowl and toast it. Then slice the cheese; four or five small pieces per bowl.

Turn on broiler in stove. Arrange your soup bowls on a cookie sheet, ladle soup into each bowl and top each bowl with bread. Put slices of cheese on top of the bread.

Put cookie sheet under broiler until cheese is melted and bread is toasted.

To serve, place each bowl on a small plate, and remind everyone not to touch the hot bowl.

Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or kbjornland@dailygazette.net.

 
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