SOME ONIONS WON’T LAST—you know, the ones whose tops didn’t brown down thoroughly before harvest, and may still look more like a scallion’s stalk, or store-bought ones sitting in that bowl on the counter a little too long. Solution: onion soup, specifically David Lebovitz’s onion soup from “My Paris Kitchen,” one of his popular books.
It’s a soup you can make and enjoy now, or freeze, depending on how many willing yellow onions you can get your hands on, and on whether you can resist eating it all right away. With my first bowlful, I didn’t even manage to wait long enough to melt the cheese on top of the recommended toast. It just smelled too inviting as-is (or was), and then, suddenly, gone.
If you haven’t met David Lebovitz, the story, in brief: In 1999, he left Chez Panisse and a career in the restaurant business. He moved from San Francisco to Paris—where he jokingly says Belgian endive is so inexpensive as to be the French version of “trash” lettuce, and reports there are more than 1,260 bakeries. Packing up little more than his best skillet, cookbooks and trusty laptop, David turned to writing, and his 2011 memoir, “The Sweet Life in Paris” (Amazon affiliate link), became a “New York Times” bestseller.
His website has likewise been a giant hit (and has an e-newsletter I enjoy); he is lately (as of 2021ish) moving more over to delivering his latest writing via a Substack newsletter.
No wonder he is so perennially popular. Besides having a way with food, he is a delicious storyteller, too, always layering in the essential ingredients of humor, tenderness and accessibility—even when he’s “remastering the classics” as is the stated goal of “My Paris Kitchen.”
He leaves his mark on coq au vin and croque-monsieur, cassoulet and lamb tagine, and delicious frites (made in the oven, a nod to the fact that most of us don’t have a deep-fryer in the kitchen the way French households often do). And there is dessert, of course; David was for many years a pastry chef. To the chocolate-dulce de leche tart, the salted butter caramel chocolate mousse, and coffee crème brulee, I say, help me! But there are simpler choices such as madeleine, too.
And there is the French onion soup—but not with beef stock, as is the tradition. David uses chicken stock, specifically homemade. (Small example of David humor: On his website FAQ page, he answers the inquiry about, “Finding Canned Chicken Stock in France” with, “You can’t.”)
I’m a vegetarian, so I skipped the chicken stock that David suggests in his recipe notes below, using vegetable instead (or half water and half vegetable stock if the stock is insistent-flavored). And as I said, I skipped the cheese, at least the first time around, as you can see in my monastic photo at the top of the page, compared to the positively elastic, in-action one from David’s book just below. Now seeing his version, who can resist this recipe from “My Paris Kitchen“?
french onion soup (soupe à l’oignon)
recipe below copyright by David Lebovitz, from “My Paris Kitchen;” photo above from the book, copyright Ed Anderson (used with permission).
By David Lebovitz
Beef stock is thought to be traditional in this soup, but it’s heavier, and I rarely have beef stock on hand, so I use chicken stock. For a heartier stock, you can roast the chicken bones in a 400ºF (200ºC) oven on a baking sheet for 30 to 45 minutes, until well browned, then use those bones to make the stock.
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/55g) unsalted butter
- 2½ pounds (1.2kg) yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (180ml) white wine or sherry
- 2 quarts (2l) chicken stock
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed
- 6 thick slices hearty white bread, or about 18 thick-sliced pieces of baguette, well toasted
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, for rubbing the bread
- 3 cups (255g) grated Emmenthal, Comté, or Gruyère cheese
1. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.
2. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for 1½ hours, stirring less frequently and decreasing the heat to avoid burning as the onions continue to cook down. (You may wish to use a flame diffuser if your cooktop doesn’t allow low enough heat.)
As the onions cook, if they brown on the bottom of the pan in places, use a spatula to scrape those appetizing brown bits into the onions because they’ll add flavor. The onions are done when they have collapsed into a thick amber-brown paste.
3. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and use a flat utensil to loosen any and all brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, stirring them into the onions. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, tasting it to get the balance right, adding a touch more vinegar, and salt and pepper, if desired.
4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Set six ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
5. Divide the hot soup among the bowls. Rub both sides of the toasted bread slices with the garlic. Put the toasts on the soup, then sprinkle the tops with the grated cheese. Bake the soups on the upper rack of the oven until the cheese is deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if your bowls can withstand the heat, you can set the cheese-topped soups under a hot broiler, cooking them until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.
more from david lebovitz
- Visit David Lebovitz’s website, a mix of recipes, plus Paris-centric tips and restaurant recommendations.
- His vibrant Facebook page is full of newsy tidbits, many of them food-centric, and his Twitter stream has a massive audience. And of course he is on Instagram.
enter to win ‘my french kitchen’
I BOUGHT AN EXTRA COPY of David Lebovitz’s “My French Kitchen” (Amazon affiliate link) to share with a lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is answer this multi-part question in the comments box below the last comment on this page. (Note: the giveaway is over.)
Do you grow onions? Have you ever made onion soup? (If not, what’s your most onion-centric dish?)
No answer? That’s fine; just say “count me in” or the equivalent, and I will. But an answer is even better. I selected a random winner after entries closed at midnight Sunday, September 14, 2014, and another book for another round of the giveway that ended Tuesday November 19, 2019. Good luck to all.
(Photo of David Lebovitz from his website.)
Never made onion soup before. This recipe makes me want to try it.
Yes! I have a great recipe for 1 serving, which can be made per person, which works out well. I got it from a newspaper!
I’ve made onion soup a long time ago but not recently. This recipe is enticing me to try again.
I do not grow onions in my small garden but my daughter does in her big Michigan garden and they are delicious fresh.
I am reading the book series Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker, that is set in France. The author always has Bruno cooking up a simple French meal for his friends. I can almost taste the good food and wine while reading!