French Onion Soup

When too much cheese is too much cheese.

Whether it's the start of a big meal or a simple supper on its own, a bowl of French onion soup always gives me a little thrill when it arrives at the table. Served in its own special stoneware crock, gratinéed with Gruyère cheese until bubbly and golden, the soup is all the more tantalizing because it's served straight out of the oven, far too hot to eat. I have to sit there patiently (or not), inhaling the heady aroma of sweet onions and savory broth, until I can finally dip into the gooey blanket of cheese and broth-soaked bread for a tiny sip of soup.

For the longest time, French onion soup was a restaurant ritual for me, nothing I would ever bother making at home. But then I inherited my mother's set of onion soup crocks, and I was moved to put them into action. As I began reading recipes, I quickly realized that this classic bistro dish is at its heart a simple peasant soup, and that there are as many versions as there are cooks with a bag of onions and a soup pot.

The recipe that I've developed over the years isn't a carbon copy of one you might get from a French bistro—for one thing, I usually use chicken broth in place of the traditional beef broth, turning a lengthy cooking project into something I can make in about an hour and a half. I also forgo the extra flavorings that many chefs use (Cognac, sherry, or sugar, for example) because I feel that these are too much for this lighter style soup, and sometimes less is more.

My version of onion soup requires no unusual ingredients, and it fills me and anyone I serve it to with a warmth and satisfaction that few soups can match.