Au Pied du Cochon in Paris may be the most famous brasserie for serving French onion soup, but this version will make you sit up and take notice.
Fennel, naturally compatible in flavor and texture, is added to the onions for an interesting taste combination. The easiest way to slice the onions and fennel is with the food processor, using the slicing blade, or on a mandoline.
Slowly caramelizing the onions and fennel takes a long time, so be patient. The longer they cook, the more layered flavors you will experience. I like to make this over the weekend for lunch and serve whatever is left over on a weeknight since it just takes a few minutes to reheat it. Serve this with a simple Belgian endive salad and a crusty loaf of country bread. Try a robust red Rhone wine to accompany.
You can vary the crouton topping with different melting cheeses like fresh goat cheese, Teleme or Italian fontina. These little cheese croutons are easy to make and lighter than the usual fondue style onion soups. You’ll save a step since you don’t have to put the soup under the broiler, because you broil the cheesy croutons and place them on the soup just before serving.
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
3 fennel bulbs, about 1 1/2 pounds, cleaned, trimmed and fronds removed, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
10 cups chicken or beef broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 (1/4 inch) slices French bread, baguette style
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (just under 2 ounces)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish
In a large, non-aluminum saucepan heat the oil over medium low heat. Add the onions and sweat them by covering them with a top until wilted, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the top and add the sugar and fennel and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until dark golden and caramelized, about 30 to 45 more minutes. You may need to turn up the heat to medium to reach the desired color.
Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the stock, white wine, bay leaf and thyme. Partially cover and simmer for an additional half hour or until the flavors are nicely blended. Add the salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Discard the bay leaf.
While the soup is cooking, under a preheated broiler, broil the bread slices until golden, watching carefully to prevent burning, about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Sprinkle each slice of bread with an equal amount of Gruyere and Parmesan cheese and reserve.
Just before serving, broil the croutons for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until the cheese is just melted.
To serve, ladle soup in individual deep soup bowls and float two or three croutons on the top of each bowl of soup. Sprinkle remaining cheese mixture and a little chopped parsley over each soup bowl for garnish. Serve immediately.
Advance Preparation: The soup can be prepared completely three days ahead, covered and refrigerated. Reheat gently. This soup also freezes well. Adjust the seasonings when you reheat the frozen soup. Make the croutons up to 4 hours ahead and broil them just before serving.
Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at seriouslysimple.com.