I base my recipe on the one from the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking, but with a much less structured approach.
|Prepare for Gallic oniony goodness!|
Butter (olive oil for vegan option)
Beef broth (mushroom broth for vegan option)
Salt & pepper
Dry red wine, cognac, or sherry (optional)
Grated cheese (Gruyere is traditional, but works fine with Parmesan or something like it too)
Stale or toasted crusty bread
|Sweat, baby, sweat!|
Add salt and pepper here - I usually do 8 to 12 grinds each on a mill, depending how much soup you're making. More soup = more seasoning.
|Sweet, sweet onion love.|
Carmelization takes time: I usually spend at least a half an hour attending to the onions. You don't need to stand there stirring them the whole time, but you do need to let them cook, and check them every few minutes to make sure they're browning but not burning. Scrape the pan if the butter starts to stick to the bottom, and lower the heat a little.
It can also help to cover them, as that helps trap moisture so they sweat instead of frying. This isn't a fast, high heat quickie, this is low, slow, sweet, sweaty cooking, like good lovin' on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
|With a little herb added.|
|Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...|
Beef broth is the standard here. However, I've done a mix of chicken and beef when we're short on beef, and it doesn't ruin the flavor at all, just makes it a little bit lighter. If you happen to have your own home-made beef stock, you can add some of that here as well. I tend to make stock a few times and year and freeze it, so will toss in a block of frozen stock here if I have it. It's not necessary but will lift this soup from excellent to outfuckingstanding.
For a vegetarian option I recommend mushroom broth, NOT vegetable broth. Mushroom broth has the right kind of savory, umami flavor; veggie broth lacks this and will produce an inferior soup. Avoid it for this recipe.
|When you don't want to be fancy.|
So for this cooking, I just dished it up into a soup bowl and sprinkled shredded Parmesan all over it. We accompanied it not with crusty bread this time, but with oven-baked polenta. I've also had it ladled out into smaller mugs, which is perfect for a quick mug of soup on a cold rainy afternoon.
As far as cheese goes, Gruyere is the best and most traditional: stinky, creamy, and nutty, it's a lovely pale golden cheese with a texture a bit like gouda. It's also a bit expensive, especially for a soup that's supposed to have working-class origins. You can substitute gouda or something like it if your budget won't accommodate Gruyere. And Parmesan or Asiago works just fine in a pinch.
Using the best ingredients you can afford will help make this the best damn soup you've ever had in your life.