Rich and hearty French onion is worth the hands-on time

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Inspiration often comes from unexpected places. A few weeks back, a conversation with my dentist progressed from crunchy bread to his wife’s latest culinary offering: French onion soup.

I knew she was a serious cook when I found out they owned both a Viking and a BlueStar range.

I love French onion soup, but for good reason, it was not part of my soup rotation. That dark brown, rich, sweet onion flavor requires a good bit of hands-on time to produce.

Despite internet lore, caramelizing onions does not take 15 minutes. At this point, though, I was powerless. The French onion soup seed had been planted.

French onion soup can certainly stand on its own for flavor, but when complemented by a topping of toasty bread and Gruyere cheese, it finds its perfect mate. The soup is usually served in individual oven-proof ramekins. If you don’t have any oven-proof bowls, you can toast the cheese in the oven and then place it on the soup when serving.

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French onion soup requires more patience than cooking technique. Some people get around this by using a slow cooker to caramelize the onions. Chalk it up to my lack of faith, but I can’t believe that if I throw a bunch of sliced onions in a slow cooker, I will wake up the next morning and find them perfectly browned.

Although French onion soup may sound fancy and elegant, it only uses simple ingredients and can easily be made at home. The classic recipe calls for beef stock, but unless you make your own, you are better off using chicken or vegetable.

If you don’t have Gruyere, any type of cheese that melts well will suffice.

French onion soup is rich and hearty — so accompanied by a light salad, it can serve as a complete meal.

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French onion soup is traditionally served in individual ramekins. Melt the cheese under the broiler just before serving.  (Julie Falsetti photo/For The York Dispatch)

French Onion Soup

  • 3 pounds yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of ground sage
  • 6 cups beef, chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dry red or white wine
  • 1 crusty baguette
  • 6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Halve the onions through the root end, then peel and thinly slice.

Melt the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions. Toss to coat evenly. Cover and cook for 20 minutes until the onions are softened.

Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium high. Add the salt and sugar. Stirring every 5 minutes or so, cook the onions until they are a dark walnut color. Adjust the heat if onions are browning too quickly. The process takes about 45 minutes.

Add the flour and stir for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups hot stock and mix until blended, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the stock, wine, bay leaf and sage. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt as needed.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the baguette into 3/4-inch slices and arrange on a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake until the bread is dry, crisp and very lightly colored at the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove bread slices and set aside.

Heat the broiler and place 6 heat-proof bowls on a baking sheet. Fill each bowl with about 2 cups soup. Top each with two baguette slices and evenly distribute grated cheese over the bread. Broil until well browned and bubbly, about 5 minutes.

Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at