Four Hour French Onion Soup, Vegetarian and Gluten Free

by Jenn on January 11, 2011

in Gluten Free,Photography,Soups,Vegetarian

French Onion Soup, Gluten Free and Vegetarian

My mother taught me to make French onion soup.  Now that I have seen the light, I’m sorry Mom but you got it all wrong.  Your onions don’t caramelize for four hours.  It’s your recipe’s one fatal flaw.  I love your soup and making it the way you taught me, really I do.  But now I know better, and next time I come home I’ll make this for you, and you’ll understand :)

I was greeted with onion soup as the beginning of our four-course of dinner on our first night in Spiez (canton Bern), Switzerland after our Christmas holiday in Venezia, Italia.  After four days straight of rain, two of which included flooding, it was nice to dry off a bit and warm up with a fresh onion soup.

In Venezia, I learned new meanings for water and what it means to be soaked.  The first day, we made the rookie mistake of not wearing boots, and not bringing an umbrella.  We didn’t venture out for long (maybe 20 minutes) before we were both ready to give up, surrendered, and returned back to our hotel to seek warm and dry clothes.

After that we learned – boots and umbrella! Even if the umbrella was too wide to fit in the narrow streets…

Narrow Street in Venezia

Now properly prepared for the elements, we were able to enjoy the marvels of this island city (and see the famed flooding!) much more comfortably:

San Marco, Venezia flooding San Marco, Venezia flooding

It was quite extreme near the square of San Marco.  I’m still not quite sure how those café chairs stayed in place… Most of the cafés we went into didn’t even have chairs  – just tall tables at which a quick and tasty macchiato could be enjoyed as customers enter, order, and leave to go back out and face the wet all in a matter of just a few minutes.

Venezia, flooding San Marco, Venezia flooding

Venetians were not fazed at all by the water.  “It’s a part of life, there has always been flooding,” one man told us.  Though we were told that flooding at Christmastime was rather unusual.  Walking through the city, all the people working in shops along the roads leading to the square (or other low areas) were busy trying to pump upwards of 18″ of water from their stores and out to the river-like streets.

Palazzo Ducale, Venezia, Italia

The way the entire city worked around this event was fascinating to me.  So was the fact that I could find meringues and torrone the size of my head in just about any pasticceria that we visited (sorry no pics of those, there are no leftovers!).

Venezia, Cannaregio

We loved touring this city – we also loved eating some pretty awesome food and tasting very unique new-to-us wines…. but after four days of rain falling from above, tide coming up from below, I was not quite ready to adapt to the Venetian way of Winter yet, and found comfort in the cold, dry and snowy alpine region of Switzerland again.  Where thermal pools and saunas awaited us in Spiez on the coast of the Thunersee, along with a bowl of piping hot onion soup.

This soup I made here is a bit more in the traditional French bistro style than what I tasted in Spiez, but still a rather hearty and satisfying bowl of comfort nonetheless.  I used every onion-family vegetable I had in my kitchen at the time, and loved The Pêche’s recommendation to slowly cook everything for as long as you can to obtain those rich dark caramelized onions that bring so much flavor to the soup (the half bottle of wine in it doesn’t hurt either).  Some toasted (or burnt, oops!) GF bread and really melty vacherin mont d’or cheese that ran into the soup as you cracked the bread with your spoon made for the perfect “warm-me-up” meal.

French Onion Soup, Gluten Free

Also submitted to – Gluten Free Wednesdays and Seasonal Sundays and Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays


Vegetarian and Gluten Free French Onion Soup

Adapted from The Pêche’s French Onion Soup, which was inspired by Thomas Keller

Prep Time: 20 min depending on how fast you can slice onions
Total Time: 4.5 hours


  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 kg onions, thinly sliced
  • a dozen or so shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of scallion bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, all the cloves peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • pinch salt
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (if using storebought make sure it’s gluten free if you need to be GF)
  • 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs. herbes de provence
  • Slices of your favorite rustic bread (can be GF bread)
  • Slices of vacherin mont d’or

1. In a large pot, heat up olive oil and add the sliced onions, shallots, scallion bulbs, and garlic, along with the sugar, salt and pepper.  Keep the heat around medium/medium low, slow cooking the onions covered for 4 hours.  They will gradually get very dark and caramelize.  Stir them every half hour to check on them and make sure the heat isn’t getting too high.
2. After about three and a half hours, heat up the vegetable broth in a medium pot to a simmer and add the dried mushrooms to rehydrate them.
3. Deglaze the onions with some red wine (1/2 cup or so), and then pour the rest of the wine in to the pot along with the bay leaf and herbs.  Bring to a boil (uncovered from here on out) and let reduce to half volume.
4.  Add the vegetable/mushroom broth to the onions and simmer for about an hour.
5. When the soup is done, toast bread slices in the oven.  Fill a bowl with soup, place toasted bread on top, and then the vacherin.  Place under the broiler for a couple minutes until the cheese is bubbling and brown.  Carefully (it’s hot!) remove from the oven and serve immediately.



Miss Nirvana January 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I will have to try this. I tried a French onion soup from another blogger a few months ago and it left a lot to be desired. Slow cooking the onions might be what I was missing. Thank you for the great post and beautiful pictures.

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Thanks! I had never slow cooked the onions that long before, it really makes a huge difference in the entire character of the soup – at two hours they are nicely golden, but by four hours they are transformed into something else entirely. There’s some magic that happens between two and four hours, and it’s worth waiting for :)

Cherine January 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Gorgeous photos and great soup!!

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Thank you Cherine!

Rosa January 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

What splendid pictures! I especially like the black and white ones.

That soup looks so comforting and tasty.



Jenn January 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Thanks Rosa! Yeah I like the B&Ws too – I need to work a bit on my conversions, but love the feel of B&W for such a historically rich and architecturally interesting city.

Sara January 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Wow this looks fantastic. I’ve made a 30-minute french onion soup that was delicious. I have a feeling that the added time will make it phenomenal (plus the amount of wine doesn’t hurt anything). Thanks for sharing – I have a ton of onions right now, I just need a half a day in the house to make it.

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Sara! Yeah I made it on the weekend, no way I could’ve made it during the week – I almost started it at like 11pm but then thought better of myself, haha 😉

Jessica January 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm

This looks delicious. I have never tried to make an onion soup, but will definitely have to now. As usual, stunning! :)

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Jessica!

Kira January 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I’m terribly jealous of your travels, even though they were soggy! I’ll definitely have to bookmark this recipe. The winter has me craving French onion soup, and this is the first suitable vegetarian offering I’ve seen.

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm

It was really a fun trip, and I probably won’t ever complain about rain again 😉 I hope you enjoy this! The mushrooms really help add a bit of depth to your standard veg broth, and I don’t think they compete with the onions that much – a good background flavor.

branny January 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I adore french onion soup. I had no ideas that some recipes called for mushrooms!

Jenn January 11, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Ha they don’t, I made that part up 😉 My husband was quite skeptical of the idea at first!

dario @ foodpixels January 12, 2011 at 12:16 am

Lovely photos of Venice, probably my fav place on earth; as for the soup , it looks yummy and, reading through the ingredients list, I know it’s faboulos!

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

Thanks Dario – yes I will definitely have to return to Venice again, it’s an awesome city with fun people :)

Maggie January 12, 2011 at 12:22 am

I happen to think the burnt bread makes the picture perfect :)

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

Ha thanks Maggie!

Christine January 12, 2011 at 12:52 am

Yummy! I’ve never actually had French onion soup before but the thought of caramelized onions is enough to make me want to try it.

You and me both.I’ll take cold and snow any day over rain. Especially LOTS of rain. Erg.

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:47 am

Thanks Christine – I think you should try it!

Margaret Massey January 12, 2011 at 1:49 am

The word is fazed.

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

Thank you for pointing out my typo, it’s been fixed. January 12, 2011 at 3:41 am

Great recipe! Thanks for sharing. I just love herbes de provence!

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:48 am

Thanks – the herbes are subtle in this dish, you could use a mix of fresh ones if you wanted them to have a bit more presence too…

Prerna@IndianSimmer January 12, 2011 at 3:44 am

Fabulous fabulous fabulous!! Love everything about this post! The recipe, the photographs everything. Very well put together Jenn! Nice Work!

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:49 am

Thanks so much Prerna!

InTolerantChef January 12, 2011 at 4:38 am

Definatelyagree with the onion tip! I make a rich onion soup with a rich home made beef stock. It adds a lot of depth, but I think the mushrooms would add a similar umami presence.
Your photos look like the flooding we are experiencing in Australia at the moment, but now way would I like ‘to get used to it’ like those guys do!

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:53 am

Thanks. Venice is fascinating, the city is completely engineered to deal with this – the water can rise and fall (what we saw was upwards of two feet in some places) in just a matter of hours – as quickly as it comes it is gone. But then, Venice is quite small compared to the areas being flooded in your side of the globe…Don’t think I could get used to that scale of flooding either!

Sanura January 12, 2011 at 6:36 am

I’ve always loved French Onion Soup, but it’s always made with beef stock. Thanks for providing an alternative version. The photos are lovely.

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:58 am

Thanks! The mushrooms definitely lend a slightly different flavor than the beef stock, but I think it works quite well – they provide a nice depth to the broth that blends with the caramelized onions but still lets them “sing”.

Katherine January 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Love your pictures! Makes me want to dive right into those bowls. Adding this to my list!

Jenn January 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Thanks, hope you enjoy!

Helene January 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

One of my favorite soup if French Onion Soup. Mine is not vegetarian. I enjoyed your beautiful pictures.

Jenn January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

Thanks Hélène!

Allie January 13, 2011 at 7:08 pm

great recipe! I was just in Mont Tremblant north of Montreal and my husband got french onion soup a couple times and I was drooling over it, vowing to make it when we got home! thanks for sharing this!

Jenn January 13, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Thanks!! Hope you enjoy it!

Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 14, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Loved this post Jenn and the pics of Venice… Sigh. You’re so lucky you live so close… Re: the soup, yes, caramelizing the onions for as long as you can is the key. Dorie’s recipe calls for that too (not quite 4 hours but ages…) and it really was the key to flavourful soup! Gorgeous pics!

Jenn January 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Thanks so much Mardi!!

Nancy @TheSensitivePantry January 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I have been craving French Onion Soup. Now I have no excuse not to make it. Wonderful recipe!

Jenn January 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Thanks! If you make it I’d love to hear how it comes out for you!

Linda January 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I wonder if you couldn’t do the onions in a slow cooker on high for 4 – 6 hours? It would keep the temp constant, and you’d still get the caramelization. Also, I make a “7 onion” onion soup very similar to this in that I use shredded leeks, scallions, shallots, red / white and yellow onions, and whole pearl onions. The addition of porcini is brilliant – do you strain the mushroom broth and chop the mushrooms fine before adding back to the soup? Will make this tomorrow, but I think I might try the slow cooker method on the onions and then finish on the stove in my big stockpot. Heck – it’s bound to make the house smell grand. :-)

Jenn January 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I think a slow cooker would be perfect for caramelizing the onions, and it would require a bit less babysitting than I did here. I did not chop up the mushrooms at all, I left them whole. But then I am a big mushroom lover – compared to the huge amount of onions in the soup, the whole mushrooms really didn’t bother me. But if you did chop them, it might distribute more flavor throughout… Hope you enjoy!

amy January 16, 2013 at 2:32 am

I cooked the onions and garlic in my slow cooker for 3 hours and they turned green! Maybe “babysitting” my onions would have been a good idea.

Lydia March 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I am soooo happy I found your blog, not only because I’m gluten-free, but also because your writing is terrific and I’ve been craving French Onion soup big time lately. Thanks, and I’m excited to be subscribed.

Jenn March 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the soup!

Nicola Selhuber January 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Just tried a variation of this yesterday and it is the best onion soup ever – omitted the shallots as I couldn’t be bothered to peel them and cooked the onions are garlic for around 2 hours. (In my opinion using the porcini to create a complex depth of flavour with resorting to meat is inspired) .Then used home made sourdough bread and parmesan toasted in the oven as a topping – Heavenly, cheap and healthy food – thanks Jenn (obviously not gluten free though!)

Jenn January 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

Oh wonderful, so glad you enjoyed it!

Amber January 14, 2012 at 4:21 am

Does this keep well in the fridge?

Jenn January 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

I believe it should, as long as you stop after step 4 in the recipe. The toasted bread and melting the cheese should really be done immediately before serving, but the main soup – the onion soup – should keep just like any other leftovers as long as you store it at adequate temperature in an air tight container, etc. The soup can be reheated and then you can do step 5 before serving. Enjoy!

Mother Traci April 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I stumbled upon this recipe looking to use up my onions and now I have found myself not only a new favorite recipe but a new favorite website to cherish. Thank you for sharing…

Jenn April 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Thank you so much!!

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