THERE ARE FEW THINGS about French Onion Soup.
One of the things is the cheese. How many times have I seen French Onion Soup filled to the brim with oozing and melting cheese stuck all over the outside of the bowl? While it makes a gorgeous and appetizing presentation, it is not an easy thing to eat.
I attempt piercing the barricade of cheese, only to hit a blockade of toast. Once the spoon enters the soup, it has splashed onto the tablecloth and is there a polite way to eat cheese off the outside of a bowl?
I used expensive cheese--Emmental and Parmigiano-Reggiano for my soup and I wanted it on my spoon not wasted on my bowl. While I am ordinarily all for more cheese is better in almost any recipe, I think that restraint is best with this soup. Julia Child, herself, felt that 1/2 cup of cheese was the correct amount for 6 servings. (I do like more than that).
The crouton, a slice of French bread toasted hard so it doesn't disintegrate into the liquid is the correct way to serve this soup. I am not a lazy eater, but I must admit to being rather prissy. So I cut my French bread into cubes to further ease my freedom to enjoy.
Cut a small baguette into bite-sized pieces. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium low heat in a heavy skillet until melted. Add a crushed clove of garlic and cook for a minute or two. Remove the garlic and add the bread cubes. Stir frequently until browned and crisp. Leftovers can be used later for delicious salad croutons.
As for the broth: I am not inclined to use meat broth in a recipe that would otherwise be vegetarian. I am trying awfully hard not to go on a tirade about the current trendy use of chicken broth in everything--cream of potato soup, cream of mushroom soup. I recently ordered Spinach Enchiladas in a Mexican restaurant and guess what it tasted like, spinach? cheese? enchilada sauce? No. Chicken! I've heard the old joke about unfamiliar meat which "tastes like chicken", but I have not started wanting my vegetables to taste like it. Oops, 'scuse me.
Lets talk miso. If you are not familiar, I hope you will research it and seek it out. It is a wonderfully health giving and flavorful paste. It makes a delicious broth and is what I have used for my soup. Use 2 - 3 tablespoons of dark miso per quart of water as a substitute for beef broth and 3 - 4 tablespoons of light miso per quart for chicken broth in recipes. But don't add the miso until the end of the cooking time as the enzymes will be destroyed by boiling. (More in an upcoming post about miso.)
French Style Miso Onion Soup
2 lbs. sweet onions, thinly sliced
3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 t. sugar or molasses
2 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup white wine or water
6 cups water, divided
3 Tbs. dark miso
A spring or two of fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste, being careful with the salt if using miso and also keep in mind the saltiness of the cheese.
2 - 3 Tbs. mirin or cognac, optional, but highly recommended
Cook onions slowly in melted butter and olive oil, covered, for about 20 minutes. Raise heat to moderate and stir in sugar or molasses to help the onions caramelize. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes to an hour. The onions should be an even deep golden brown color.
Stir in flour, cook and stir for about 3 minutes. Stir in wine and deglaze pan. Stir in 5 cups water and simmer, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes or more. Dissolve miso into 1 cup of very hot water and then stir into soup. Add the fresh thyme and the cognac, if using. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Ladle soup into serving bowls. Top with croutons and grated Emmental, Swiss, Mozzarella, and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese. Place under broiler to melt cheese or use a little torch like I did.