A variation on French onion soup

OK, I’ll stop right there. You get the point, because we’ve all been there before. The cupboards are bare and you’re trying to decide whether to order a pizza, Chinese, or take on the challenge of making something from practically nothing.

For me, I relish the challenge.

When you have lemons, you make lemonade. And when you have an abundance of onions and little else in the pantry, you make French onion soup, with an emphasis on the onion and soup and less on the French, at least in the traditional sense.

My first encounter with the national broth of France was at the wise old age of 5. I was attending a family wedding. It was a grand affair, with a full band, a fountain that bubbled Champagne, and a multi-course meal.

When the waiter set a bowl in front of me, I was alarmed and felt it was my duty to warn my mother that someone in the kitchen made a very big mistake, because they had dropped toast into my soup! My mother smiled and explained the situation. So, tossing the proverbial caution to the wind, I gave it a try. I had to admit, it wasn’t bad, even for a little Italian boy.

It has been said that Italian cuisine is derived from peasants and French from royalty. Hence, Italian food is simpler and French is, well, richer.

French onions soup, according to lore comes from both. The base of onions and liquid as a soup dates back to Roman times.

The story goes that King Louis XV of France was out hunting one day and returned to his cabin, where he had pretty much just the ingredients for French onion soup. He whipped up a batch and voila, the rest is history.

I’m not sure I ever enjoyed this dish again until as an adult. I was at a quintessential sidewalk cafe overlooking the Notre Dame in Paris. The hearty liquid concoction not only warmed me against the November chill, it convinced me that I had to do my best to concoct this classic consommé for myself when I returned home.

I returned to États-Unis and I kept good on my promise. I got pretty good at it. i made everything from scratch, including the beef broth. I bought the little oven-proof crocks. I hunted down the Comte cheese from specialty stores (which, at the time, were not nearly as plentiful as they are today). I made my own French bread.

But this was back in the era of Julia Childs and “The Joy of Cooking.” The world’s taste in cuisine moved on and so had I. My French Onion cooking days became a distant memory.

Until the other day.

That’s when I searched and found little else other than the three giant onions. Inspiration struck again. Time to revive the old recipe. But, of course, I didn’t have the proper cheese and I’m not that fond of beef broth any longer.

So I took poetic license with the original recipe. And with that disclaimer, let me share what I came up with. Here are my ingredients:

  • 3 large onions
  • 2 tbsps butter
  • Dash of Herbs de Provence
  • 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • Grated cheese (I used a combination of sharp cheddar and a blend of Italian)
  • Bread (I happened to have a home-made French baguette lying around, since I make it fresh practically daily)

Directions are quite simple. Just sauté the onions in butter until they are translucent, simmer with the wine for a couple minutes, then pour in the chicken broth, stir in the mustard and sprinkle the herbs. Meanwhile, slice the bread into small strips, top with cheese and toast in the oven.

Once the soup is ready, voila! Place the toasted cheese bread on top. I didn’t keep track of the total prep time, but I seem to remember it was under an hour.

Give it a try.

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