Several weeks ago, back in Alabama, I found myself sitting across from my sister at a restaurant dinner table as she savoured every piping hot bite of what looked like a delicious French onion soup. It, of course, contained beef broth, so I was stuck just staring rudely. With each of my sister’s sips, I knew I was destined to make my own, vegetarian version this winter. I did. And it was amazing.
French onion soup is one of those perfect winter dishes that makes you feel cozy and comforted, and, with the added bread-cheese gratinée, you just can’t go wrong.
I decided, as usual, to include some choice ingredients. Seeing as I was back in Alabama, thinking about onions, I just had to purchase some Vidalias. This strain of onion comes from a very particular area in Georgia and you basically can’t get them here in California. So about a week ago, unknowingly, Southwest Airlines checked and transported what was probably the first bag full of specially procured onions. [Yes, they arrived safely!]
I love Vidalias, they are SO perfect for an onion soup (especially a vegetarian version). I was able to find petite Vidalias, with the greens still on, so we used those in the topping as well. Of course, for onion soup enthusiasts without access to the South’s produce, a standard, sweet yellow onion will suffice. I did end up supplementing with a few cippolini onions, which I believe are more easily procured from anywhere in the country. (Although for some reason, we haven’t been able to find those in California either, so I had to sneak those back from Alabama as well!)
Whether it’s with Vidalias or plain yellow onions, this is a thicker-than-average onion soup, as I wanted something substantial. It is a little salty, especially after you add the gratinée, so I put very little actual salt in the soup and used a low-sodium vegetable bouillon.
Vegetarian Vidalia Onion Soup
for the soup
2 pounds Vidalia, or sweet yellow onions (we used one pound of petite Vidalias, with the greens cut off and one pound cipollini onions)
4 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ -1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons better than bouillon vegetable base (we used low sodium)
¼- ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 quarts boiling water
2-3 stems rosemary
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup white wine
½ teaspoon black pepper
bread (we used a french bread from Lucky, and it was amazing)
~ 1 tablespoon butter
2 cups grated fontina
1 tablespoon raw onion or chopped onion greens (we sliced the tops of the Vidalias)
First, slice the onions. You don’t need to chop them, as they will break down. The important thing is to clean off the skins, slice them, and separate the layers.
Cook the onions with the butter and olive oil in a large pot over low heat for about 15 minutes.
Add in the salt and sugar. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the onions are breaking down in the pot, make your broth in a separate bowl. Combine the porcini, vegetable stock base, and boiling water. Let it rest for 30 minutes. This will create a strong, rich broth, while also rehydrating the mushrooms.
Continue to stir the onions. They should be browning well and becoming deliciously fragrant!
Add the mushrooms and broth to the large pot along with the rosemary, flour, wine, and pepper. Simmer for an hour. Go watch your favorite show or even a movie. If it cooks for a bit longer than an hour, it certainly won’t hurt this soup!
As the soup is finishing its time on the stove, preheat the oven to 325° F. Pour the soup into oven-safe bowls.
Slice the bread and spread the slices with a bit of butter. Arrange the slices like a delicious lid over your soup bowl.
Top with a generous amount of grated cheese.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Finish the gratinée off with about 2 minutes on broil.