Onion Soup

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 1 hour

People think of onion soup as fancy, but the most exotic ingredients you need here are fresh parsley and thyme. Even without those, an onion soup made with just pantry stalwarts”onions, bay leaves, garlic, and oil (for a vegan version) or butter ”is a worthwhile venture.

If you don’t have stock on hand, don’t fret: simmer the soup 10 to 15 minutes longer and add another bay leaf (and a whole stalk of celery and/or a whole carrot if you have them, discarding them just before you serve the soup). Or see the Charred Onion Soup variation that follows.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

4 large onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

Leaves of 2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 bay leaf

1 whole head garlic, cut crosswise through the equator

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons cognac, Armagnac, or brandy (optional)

2 tablespoons parsley leaves, or more to taste, for garnish (optional)

01 Put the oil or butter in a large, deep saucepan or casserole over medium heat. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and beginning to brown. This will take 30 to 45 minutes; don’t rush it.

02 Add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste and cook with the onions for a minute before adding the stock and cognac (if you have parsley, add a few sprigs to the soup at this point; fish them out before serving). Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, with bubbles occasionally breaking the surface. (You may prepare the soup in advance up to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days, then reheat before proceeding.)

03 Remove the bay leaf and garlic skin, divide the soup among bowls, garnish with parsley if you’re using it, and serve hot.

Variations

More Classic Onion Soup. A thin coating of good cheese ”rather than the more common gobs of an inferior variety ”makes this light and incredibly deep in flavor. Preheat the oven to 400В°F. Cut 4 thick slices of crusty bread, rub them with a clove of garlic on each side, and toast them in the oven, in a toaster oven, or in a pan with olive oil (see Croutons). Put a crouton in each of 4 ovenproof bowls. Add a portion of soup and top each with at least 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Place the bowls in a roasting pan or on a sturdy cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Charred Onion Soup. Charring the onions adds a tremendous amount of color to the soup, rendering it close to classic French onion soup. Preheat the broiler and cut the onions in half through the root end instead of slicing them. Place the onions cut side up on a baking sheet, rub each with a little good olive oil, and cook them under the broiler, until charred and slightly tender, 5 to 10 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, slice them thinly and proceed with either the master recipe or the preceding variation with cheese.

Spanish Onion Soup with Almonds. Subtly and nicely different: When the soup is done, combine about 1/2 cup blanched almonds and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin in a blender and turn the machine on. Slowly and carefully add some of the broth, a little bit at a time, until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Stir this back into the soup and serve, garnished with chopped parsley.