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…
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:
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.
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.
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!).
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.
- 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.