Soup doesn’t mind if you spend time with your holiday guests while it simmers, which makes it the perfect offering when gathering with family and friends. Here, Dishing Up® Oregon author Ashley Gartland shares her Christmas soup tradition of the French onion variety—hearty and full of flavor on a chilly winter night.

French onion soup. Photo © jeffreyw

Years ago, I had the pleasure of working as a waitress at a tiny French-inspired café. It wasn’t a particularly charming place; rather, it was a bare bones restaurant nestled into the corner of an art gallery on my college campus in Eugene, Oregon. Diners placed their orders at the counter, then walked down a ramp to a sunken dining room filled with cookie-cutter tables and chairs. And, though there were rich, Cabernet-colored walls and pleasant streams of music filling the air, it wasn’t idyllic in the least.

But the food was sturdy and solid — good French cuisine with a Northwest twist that attracted many regulars to the café, myself included. I had many favorites on the menu but the dish that I remembered years down the road was the chef’s French onion soup. It was so seductive that I snuck a little taste of it nearly every time I was on shift and wandered through the kitchen to pick up an order.

I finally got my hands on the recipe when I wrote my cookbook, Dishing Up® Oregon. After that, I made sure that soup had a special place at my family table. Today, we make it when the weather turns cold for all sorts of special celebrations and occasions. And, because a soup course has always been part of my family’s holiday tradition, we always make it on Christmas Eve.

My whole family enjoys the full-bodied flavor of this aromatic soup so much that we’ve stopped trying other recipes and made it the only soup we serve on Christmas Eve. But what I love most about the recipe is that it is the sort of dish that gives you the excuse to stay home, sit by the fire and enjoy the company of friends and family while dinner simmers away on the stove. More than any dish I could serve, that’s truly what the holidays are about.

French Onion Soup

Eugene’s venerable Marché restaurant serves this aromatic soup without fail each fall, thus satisfying the appetites of locals who have waited all year for its return. When making this soup at home, caramelize the onions slowly; don’t brown them, as browned onions can quickly become crispy, bitter, and undesirable. A homemade or high-quality purchased beef broth delivers the full-bodied flavor desired of this classic French dish.

6 servings

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds yellow onions (about 5 medium onions), peeled and sliced into thin rings
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef broth, preferably homemade
½ cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
12 thinly sliced baguette rounds, toasted
2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
¾ cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Warm the butter and olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onions and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover the saucepan and raise the heat to medium. Stir in the salt and sugar. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they have caramelized and turned golden brown, about 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for 1 minute longer. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the beef broth to a boil in a large pot. Combine the onions with the boiling broth. Add the wine and thyme. Simmer the soup, partially covered, until rich and deeply flavorful, about 35 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Preheat the oven to broil. Ladle the soup into six-oven-safe bowls or crocks. Top each bowl with 2 baguette rounds and a generous layer of the Gruyère and Parmesan. Heat the bowls briefly under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowls from the oven and serve immediately.

Recipe excerpted from Dishing Up® Oregon © 2011 by Ashley Gartland. All rights reserved.

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