This soup is one of the great peasant dishes of all time, I think, transforming a bunch of humble roots into a profoundly satisfying bowl of complex and nourishing pleasure. It’s fun to imagine the first starving farmer who had nothing but a bag of onions, some stale bread, and a heel of cheese and came up with this miracle of frugal virtuosity. Some good beef stock obviously helps, but it’s not necessary. Before I returned to carnivory, I made this using mushroom stock and it was a beautiful thing.
The only key to making this soup not suck (besides the quality of your stock; DO NOT use that awful canned or boxed crap) is to slice the onions properly. Here’s a nice tutorial that saves me a bunch of typing. Make all the slices the same size so that they caramelize at the same rate, and if you make them thinner they will do so faster than thick ones. This knowledge can come in handy if you don’t have two or three hours to make dinner. Get them going with butter and/or oil on a low heat and stir them regularly to keep the heat uniform. This is after a few minutes:
and this is what they looked like about an hour later. You want the caramelization to go all the way through each sliver, so that if you cut one in half it would be solid brown.
At this stage I added a fat pinch of dried herbs, some white wine to deglaze the wickedly dark and shiny fond, and then about a half a cup of frozen demi-glace which I diluted to make a stock of normal density. Then I stamped out rounds of bread using the same large ring mold I use for burgers, browned them well on both sides under the broiler, and lidded the steaming umber soup with them, burying the bread under copious fluffy piles of grated aged Colby from a place a few hours from here and slid them back under the broiler to melt and bubble. I would have used the good Gruyère from across the river, but couldn’t find any. In any case, it had the right melting texture and the requisite nutty tang so it killed. There’s nothing not to love about this soup; it’s pure alchemy and manages to be comfort food that isn’t at all unhealthy. If you make a lot of it, it only gets better in the fridge overnight and makes for a lunch of surpassing splendor.
Best of all, I still have two of my Mother’s old dedicated soup bowls, so there’s nothing about this that wasn’t absolutely spot on, all the way down to these napkin/placemat things that we got so my family members who are flying in from England and California for Thanksgiving won’t think we’re hillbillies. See how the ochre in the cloth plays off the melty cheese? That’s autumnal as fuck right there. It’s cold out. Make some soup.