French Onion Soup has always been a fascinating food to me. It smells wonderful every time someone orders it at a restaurant, and the thick crust of melted cheese on top is mouthwatering. I'm half tempted to try it every time. But the thought of all that salty beef stock turns me off and it seems like one of those things where a vegetarian version just can't do the original justice (i.e. Turducken ?!?)
I've tried making a vegetarian version of onion soup before with slow caramelized onions but I just didn't have enough patience to cook the onions long enough and I missed out on that deep flavor that I was looking for. Fail.
Success today though, now that I've discovered the trick to amazing vegetarian onion soup. The answer, of course, lies within my favorite cooking technique....roasting. If you roast those onions, they develop an intensely sweet yet savory umami, that when paired with cooked down balsamic vinegar and red wine....well, let's just say I was not disappointed in the least.
I've been watching less and less Food Network in my free time, and more PBS cooking shows like America's Test Kitchen, Ming Tsai on Simply Ming, and Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. This last one is where I learned about Roasted Onion Soup, so I gathered up everything in my house that even remotely resembled an onion or garlic - I had yellow and red onion, ramps, scallions, and garlic that I chopped and roasted. My house smelled amazing.
Then you add the roasted onions to some parmesan-flavored stock and let the flavors simmer together for awhile. I served the finished soup topped with a thick slice of high quality multigrain bread (from Rustica Bakery) and a mountain of freshly grated Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese. After a quick trip to the broiler, the soup was ready. It was amazing.
Roasted Onion Soup, adapted from Ciao Italia
Serves 4-6 as a main course, more as a starter
Recipe notes: use any combination of onions and garlic you can find, I just listed what I used. Also, I didn't chop my onions small enough so the soup was a bit chunky. I would recommend dicing finely before roasting. But if not, you can do what I did and send the finished soup through a few quick pulses in a food processor or blender before serving. Finally, the parmesan cheese rind is optional in the stock, but adds a crazy awesome flavor. You should store your rinds in the freezer and they'll keep forever until you need to add them to soup!
1.5 large yellow onions, diced fine
1 large red onion, diced fine
1/2 bunch scallions, sliced fine
1 bunch ramps, sliced fine (ramps are wild leeks available only for a brief time in the spring)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
olive oil, salt, and pepper
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine
6 cups vegetable stock (I used 6 cups water and 2 cubes Rapunzel veg bouillon)
1 parmesan cheese rind
3 dried bay leaves
handful fresh chopped parsley leaves
thick sliced multigrain bread
grated cheese - gruyere, parmesan, or provolone would all be great
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Toss your chopped onions and garlic with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes, or until nicely charred.
Add balsamic vinegar, stir, and roast another 5 minutes (it will get all glazey and sweet and delicious smelling).
Add wine and roast another 30 minutes.
Heat your stock, parmesan rind, and bay leaves in a large soup pot on the stove top. Add your roasted onion mixture and any remaining wine/balsamic liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add parsley. Blend at this point if too chunky.
Ladle soup into an oven-safe bowl. Put a thick slice of bread on top, then cover with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melty and bubbly.
ONE YEAR AGO: Sloppy Lentils
TWO YEARS AGO: Grilled Romaine Salad