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.)
Yes we grow onions from seed, but have never made onion soup. I am going to try this recipe.
French onion soup was a favorite growing up in Montreal.
I have never grown onions but I have made onion soup. I am looking forward to trying the recipe!
YES, please enter me in the drawing.
Other than green onions, I’ve never grown onions. I enjoy caramelizing yellow onions. I don’t believe I’ve ever made onion soup. I use those caramelized onions in a crustless quinoa quiche. Delish
Count me in! Drooling already! I loved onion soup on rainy days in college and we just moved to Washington State where the rain is said to be abundant!
I have not grown onions or made home made onion soup yet but, I will. Thanks for the recipe.
I am in
I make potato salad with lots of chopped Vidalia onion, celery salt, celery, mayo, a little spicey mustard, and Yukon gold potatoes. Delish!,
I’ve grown onions..they do well in GA, especially the sweet ones. I’ve been making onion soup forever. When I worked for the Museum of Contemporary Crafts/American Craft Council, we were next door to Black Rock….they had a restaurant on the first floor that had the best onion soup I’ve ever tasted. The best. I now use Thomas Kellers recipe.
Just planted Walking Onions! Adventure awaits!
French onion soup—Yes!!! Bring it on!!!
Yes we love and make soup! Thank you for your super podcast/ emails
We grow onions, and I make a galette with caramelized onions and cubed butternut squash (also from the garden.). Looking forward to this onion soup!
I grew bulb onions for the first time this year and was thrilled with my harvest. Unfortunately, after drying the onions on wire shelves in my house for a month, I guess I didn’t leave them long enough because when the long brown leaves were cut off they had not dried sufficiently the top of the onion. Onion soup is a perfect solution. Thanks for the recipe.
Must try this soup!
Love French onion soup and made another recipe similar a couple weeks ago
Thought my bread was dry but soaked up too much soup
Needed toasted more
Love the Gruyère cheese on top
I love onions (and garlic and shallots) and I grow my own: have for years and years. My problem with onion soup is that it takes sooooo many onions to make a good big batch. My homegrown onions usually last only til Christmas, maybe New Years if it has been a good year. I hate to use up most of the year’s worth on one giant but delicious recipe. You have me drooling though so I might just buy a bag of onions and use them all for a giant batch of French Onion Soup.
I do grow onions, and yes, I have made onion soup many times through the years, but always with beef stock. There is very little that wouldn’t benefit from onions, except chocolate pudding maybe. From decades ago, I remember a bit of humor from the catalog of an onion plant vendor, in which a young boy enters the kitchen and asks Mom, “What’s for dinner?” She replies, “I haven’t decided yet, but I have the onions started.”
i DO GROW ONIONS. sometimes I’m happy with my harvest & sometimes not. I also have made onion soup & will surely try David’s recipe
French onion soup is one of my favourite soups. I made onion soup many, many years ago but as my daughter developed allergies, one of them being onions, I never made it again but only order it when dining out. Would love to try this recipe now.
Count me in! Drooling already!
I can’t wait to try this soup recipe. Onion soup is my favorite, I also use chicken not beef but not tried the vinegar or wine.
I met a woman who lives in Paris and her onion soup recipe includes tomatoes!
I’ve been making Julia Childs onion soup for years. It’s very similar to this one. Lots of onions and lots of stirring for carmelization but worth all the time.
I’d love to see the rest of the recipes in this book.
French Onion soup is the perfect Fall soup! Great give away.