I was minding my own business, catching up on food blogs last year, when I came across Jen’s tempting pictures of what she’d been cooking while visiting her parents. They’d just recently made Julia and Jacques’ French onion soup, and next thing I knew I was slicing onions. It just so happens I’d bought some at the farmers’ market the week before for that very purpose but got sidetracked by the New Year holiday. No beef stock on hand, I started improvising. I could’ve made a quick vegetable stock, but work had piled up over the vacation and this was before I started making my own vegetable bouillon.
The onions had developed such a beautiful brown color while caramelizing, I had a hunch they could serve as the base for a stock. Quick, and tasting thinking indeed. In went a crushed clove of garlic, a bit of sherry vinegar and a bit more pepper. Good, but it needed something else. Hmm (browses though cupboards). And there it was. Sitting innocently on a shelf and unsuspecting of what I was about to do with it. Molasses. And that dear friends is the secret ingredient. Something we’ve all been using for our holiday baking had given my soup the depth of flavor it needed to pass for the traditional one made with beef stock.
Try this vegetarian version of a beloved classic and I dare you to disagree. And, as for cheese, use what you like. Gruyere or Swiss are traditionally used, but since we’ve thrown that out the window, go for whatever melting cheese strikes your fancy. I used Provolone, and in a pinch tested in with a mix of Monterey Jack and Grana Padano. Here’s to a deliciously healthy start to the New Year.
French Onion Soup
4 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, sliced
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 1/2 cups water
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
Four 1-inch thick slices of baguette, toasted
4 ounces shredded Provolone, Swiss, Gruyere, or any melting cheese of your choosing
1. Melt butter in a 6-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper; stir to coat well. Saute until they begin to soften and become golden, about 15 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, until onions are softened, about 20 more minutes.
2. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir, scraping up browned bits at bottom of pot. Raise heat back to medium-high and slowly pour in the water. Add garlic clove, sherry vinegar and molasses. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes. Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
3. Preheat broiler. Evenly ladle soup into 4 oven-safe bowls. Place one slice of toasted baguette on top of each. Evenly sprinkle cheese on top and place on a rimmed baked sheet. Cook under broiler until cheese is golden and bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes.