I’m always looking for the best version of certain food classics – the meals that are as much about the memory of a satisfying meal as they are its actual flavor. For me, onion soup is one of those foods. When I first moved to Washington after college, with a take-home pay of $267 every two weeks, I used to buy a can of onion soup, a small baguette and some inexpensive (waxy) cheese, and make myself onion soup for a special treat. I’d melt the cheese over the bread and soup under the broiler and eat it slowly, savoring the memory of other times and other onion soups. Even when the ingredients weren’t stellar, the combination of flavors and textures was familiar and satisfying.
Satisfying hunger is about more than having a full belly – we all need to feel a sense of completion about the food we eat, a recognition that something good just happened (however small), and make a mental acknowledgement of it. Modern life makes it challenging for every meal to provide psychic pleasure, but I think it’s worth being mindful of the need for all of us to have that experience regularly. (I’m also convinced that this is the reason so many diets don’t work – if you’re not satisfied by the food you’re eating, it’s not possible to sustain that eating indefinitely, and there will be a backlash. My backlash usually involves a pint of dark cherry frozen yogurt.) It’s not only okay to love the food you eat – it’s essential.
This onion soup recipe is made with four types of vegetables from the allium family: shallots, garlic, sweet onions, and leeks. It takes a little time for them all to cook down and caramelize, but it’s the kind of cooking that doesn’t require much effort; you check in on the pot every now and then, and keep adding ingredients until it’s done. It has a winning combination of savory and sweet flavors that onions produce so beautifully, and when paired with some good beef stock, bread, and cheese, it’s a meal for the ages. Enjoy!
Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Adapted from House and Garden UK
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 21 ounces sweet onions, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
- 300 grams banana shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
- 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced finely (white and green parts only)
- salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 8 ounces dry white wine
- 1 quart and 8 ounces of beef stock
- 4 slices French bread
- 4 ounces Manchego cheese, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- Melt the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan. Add onions, shallots and leeks, with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Vegetables should be soft and pale.
- Sprinkle sugar into pot and cook uncovered for another 20 minutes, until liquid has evaporated and onions and leeks caramelize to golden brown.
Add flour, stirring it into the mixture.
- Increase heat to medium and add the wine and beef stock.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 more minutes.
- Correct seasoning.
- Slice and toast bread on both sides.
- Divide the soup between heatproof bowls and put a slice of bread on top of each.
- Top with grated cheese and half of the thyme and place under broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Scatter rest of thyme and serve.