French Onion and Mushroom Soup
A bowl of steaming hot French onion soup topped with bubbling melted Gruyère cheese on a crusty piece of bread is the ultimate winter-warming soup. After a culinary tour of the extensive Paris culinary market, I first encountered an authentic bowl of this soup at a nearby brasserie. It was a cool October day and this hot crockery bowl was just the ticket to warm comfort. Years later I would go to the small village of Gruyère where I would see how this nutty cheese is made from alpine grazed happy cows. Other Swiss cheeses might work but would not come close to the herb and flower-scented, aged Gruyère. In the Parisian style, this soup should be served piping hot so that the aroma has time to entice the appetite!
To replicate this classic in a plant-based way took a bit of tweaking. Classically the soup is made with a petite marmite, a combination of half beef, half chicken, and vegetable broths. A marmite is also the small earthenware pot in which it is usually served. Mushroom broth makes a hearty substitute. The addition of chopped cremini mushrooms piqued the flavor even more. In place of brandy, Madeira wine which enhances the mushroom flavor was substituted for the usual brandy. To eliminate or substitute a vegan cheese was just a bridge too far for this crusty old chef! So if you are happy with a lacto-vegetarian soup this recipe is for you.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 large yellow onions, peeled, halved, thinly sliced core to stem end (about 4 cups)
4 sprigs marjoram
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup Madeira wine
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart mushroom broth (recipe follows or from a box)
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
6 large thick sliced whole grain bread
1 ½ cup Gruyère, grated
6 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepot over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Add the onions. Slowly cook and stir until caramelized, about thirty-five to forty minutes.
2. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the marjoram, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook and stir until softened, about two to four minutes.
3. Deglaze with the Madeira and white wine, loosening any browned bits (fond) from the pan.
4. Add the broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for twenty minutes.
5. Preheat the oven broiler. In the meantime lightly toast the bread.
6. Taste, Think, Transform with salt and/or pepper.
7. Ladle into six oven-proof bowls placed on a sheet pan. Top with the toasted bread, Gruyere, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Place under the broiler. Remove when the cheese is melted, and bubbly browned. Place on room temperature plates. Serve hot.