It was 5 months into the now-going-on-5-years relationship, and it was Jonathan’s birthday. I was pretty much broke, still a student, where one hundred percent of my tiny income either went to paying my rent, food, or the fat tuition payment that haunted me endlessly. I wasn’t even much of a cook at the time, spending my days away from home in class and eating university grub like the rest of them. But, I thought it would be nice to offer Jonathan a birthday dinner à la Erika, whatever he wanted… I’d make it.
He asked for French onion soup. I didn’t know it at the time, but he hadn’t even had it before. I thought it was one of those dishes he maybe had as a kid at a fancy restaurant and always wanted to try it again one more time, or something like that. Nope. He just came up with it on a whim as a timid answer to his new girlfriend anxiously trying to make something good.
So, I made French onion soup for the first time. Keep in mind, I barely knew how to cut an onion. I specifically remember cutting, trying to read the directions on my iPad about cutting “lengthwise”, as my eyes began to burn out of their sockets. And I mean, actually worse than the first time you watched The Notebook. I had to take three breaks to leave the room. I was probably using a butter knife.
Since then, I’ve made French onion soup a few times. Once, in Jonathan’s basement apartment, I got through all the prep work only to find we didn’t have any bowls that would work. So, Jonathan and I made it in a glass baking dish and sat real close with two spoons. Classy.
Several years later, things haven’t changed much, I just make Jonathan cut the onions. I know how to make my own broth now, and I use swiss cheese with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. The recipe I worked from is available here at Food.com.
Beef broth (make your own, or a 48 oz box)
1 can beef consomme
2 large onions, sliced (I used yellow)
3 tablespoons butter
2 pressed garlic cloves
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry (optional)
150g swiss cheese (shredded or torn up by hand)
4 slices stale or toasted bread (preferably French)
Place sliced onions in a large pot with butter on medium heat. Allow them to caramelize and get tender, about 20 minutes. Move them around as they begin to brown, don’t let them burn. If you’ve got lots of time, feel free to lower the heat and caramelize them slowly for an hour.
Add pressed garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
Pour in the broth, consomme, sherry (if you have it), and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. I’ve seen other recipes cook the broth with the onions for 45 minutes on low heat, which probably unites the two flavours even better (again, if you have time… otherwise it’s still good).
Take your oven-safe bowls, mugs, or glass baking dish and sprinkle some of the cheese on the bottom.
Fill the bowls with the soup. Place the bread on top, and sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese.
Stick them under the broiler for a couple minutes, until the cheese is bubbly or slightly darkened.
The story goes that French onion soup was first made by peasants in Roman times, since onions are so easy to grow and making soup has been traced back to 6000 BC. If all you had in your pantry were some onions, beef or chicken bones, and old wine, you were pretty much good to go. And the French know their cheese. I am eternally grateful to the country that allows me to feel okay with putting cheese on everything.