Onion Soup Gratinee

Wintry weather had been sneaking in, as had my cravings for onion soup when, right on cue, a (free) review copy of the Culinary Institute of America's The New Book of Soups arrived on my doorstep.

As I do with any new cookbook, I immediately flipped through looking at all the pictures and recipe titles. The pictures are gorgeous, and there's quite a variety of different soups! I have another soup cookbook, but the pictures and recipes in this one easily blow it away. After being awed by the many delicious bowls of soup before me, I went back and read through the book more closely. It's divided into chapters (following the first one on soup basics) by soup type, moving from broths, hearty soups, stews, and cream soups to pureed soups, bisques and chowders, and, finally, cold soups. The last chapter is about soup accompaniments.

In the soup basics chapter, I learned that soup pots should be taller than they are wide. This is so less of the soup evaporates. I also learned some time-saving tips, one of which I employed below. And I found a great chart on soup ingredients. I couldn't wait to delve right into the recipes after preparing by reading the soup basics chapter.

There's not much that can beat a hearty, warm bowl of a soup on a cold winter's night. I don't know about where you live, but here, the temperatures have been dropping quickly, too quickly if you ask me. But cold weather also means soup weather, so that's definitely some consolation.

While I considered making the classic lentil soup or the minestrone for my first recipe from The New Book of Soups, I knew what I really wanted was onion soup with a hunk of bread and cheesy topping. The onion soup gratinee can be found in the broths chapter.

Really, I should have made my own beef broth because The New Book of Soups includes a basic method for broths and broth recipes, but since I saw that using prepared broth was an acceptable time-saver, I cheated and bought the prepackaged stuff. I also took another shortcut and used a premade bouquet garni from O&Co. It contained thyme, bay leaves, savory, and oregano, which I thought would work as a substitute for the herbs called for in the recipe. And the last difference between my soup and the recipe below is that I thought I had brandy at home so I didn't pick any up. I was mistaken, but I made the soup anyways, sans brandy. I think the brandy would help to add another layer of flavor. Next time I make a soup, I'm definitely going to do it completely from scratch using the guidance in this book.

Onion Soup Gratinee (from The New Book of Soups, reprinted with permission)
Makes 8 servings

1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
5 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup brandy
1 1/2 qt Beef or Chicken Broth, heated (page 16, 15)
Sachet: 3 to 4 parsley stems, 1/2 tsp each dried thyme and tarragon, 1 bay leaf enclosed in a large tea ball or tied in a cheesecloth pouch
Salt as needed
Freshly ground black pepper as needed
8 slices French bread
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, or as needed

  1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook without stirring until the onions begin to brown on the bottom. Raise the heat to medium, stir, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized (dark golden brown). The total cooking time will be 40 to 45 minutes. If the onions begin to scorch, add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to cook for an additional minute. Add the brandy and simmer until the liquid has nearly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the broth and sachet. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, skimming the surface as necessary and discarding the fat. Remove and discard the sachet. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. When ready to serve the soup, preheat the oven to 350°F and bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Ladle the soup into individual oven-proof crocks. Top each with a slice of bread and sprinkle with the grated cheese, covering the bread completely and allowing the cheese to touch the edge of the crock.
  5. Set the soup crocks in a baking dish and add enough boiling water to the baking dish to reach two-thirds up the sides of the crocks. Bake until the soup is thoroughly heated and the cheese is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Soup ingredients

Sliced onions
(It's best to employ a boyfriend who is surprisingly skilled at using a mandoline for this part. Even though he'd never used it before, he was 10 times faster than me and never came close to losing any fingers. Slicing by hand would take quite a while. And me using a mandoline is out of the question -- my mandoline and I have had way too many close calls!)

Finished soup

Soup ladled into bowls

Bread and cheese

Soup topped with bread and cheese

All toasty and ready to be eaten!
(Even though the recipe doesn't suggest it, I had to turn on my broiler in the end to get the cheese browned and melted the way I like it.)

I'm thinking about making a stew this weekend -- we're expecting snow!

What is your favorite kind of soup?