french onion soup with porcini

Your chances of finding a meat-free French onion soup at a restaurant are next to nil. It’s traditionally made with a beef (often veal) stock, which I’ll admit, is a nice match for those sweet onions. But there is a way to get just as flavourful a French onion soup without beef stock, using a common substitution.

Where there would be meat, use mushrooms.

A handful of dried porcini mushrooms steeped in hot water creates a full-flavoured broth that still lets the flavour of the onions shine through. So with that out of the way, the only thing to concern oneself with is making sure those onions get as concentrated, sweet and brown as possible. In other words, caramelize the hell out of them. This takes a long time (up to two hours,) but takes so little effort. It’s a matter of letting the onions sit in the pan over a low heat, and you walking by every 20 minutes to push them around. That’s it.

sliced onions

garlic added to caramelized onions

Your house will fill with the intoxicating aroma of onions caramelizing–reason enough to make this soup and we haven’t even gotten to the melty, cheese crouton yet.

Once the onions are done, you add some garlic, wine and water–plus the all-important porcini soaking liquid…

baguette and gruyere

…lay some toasted bread on a bowl of the soup, top with cheese and broil for a few minutes.

soup ready for the broiler

Aside from the delicious broth, sweet onions and cheese, you’ll love this soup for it’s super-warming magic properties. Eat a bowl on a dark, damp November evening and you’ll thaw from the bones out in minutes. Minutes. Perhaps it helps that you’re probably drinking a huge glass of the red wine you’re using in the soup too.

French Onion Soup with Porcini

3 tbs unsalted butter
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs onion, sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced thinly lengthwise
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus 1 tsp
10 g dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed quickly under cold water
4 slices of baguette, cut on a bias
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tbs all-purpose flour
1 c red wine
4 c water
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 c grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 c grated Comte cheese
Chives, chopped for garnish (optional)

Add the butter and oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan set over low heat. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir well and cook uncovered over low heat to caramelize the onions, which can take 90 minutes to 2 hours. You’re looking to bring out all of the sugars, soften and brown the onions without burning them, so low heat is key. Stir the onions roughly every 20 minutes to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Meanwhile, soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of very hot or boiling water for at least 20 minutes, longer is fine. Tear the mushrooms into shreds, leave them in the soaking liquid and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Toast the bread in the oven on a baking sheet for 20 minutes.

When you think the onions are almost done, add the garlic, stir and cook for 5 minutes until the garlic is softened and starting to colour. Add the flour, stir well and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 5 more minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the porcinis and their soaking liquid, the water, the remaining teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding a pinch more salt if necessary.

Preheat your broiler. Ladle the soup evenly into 4 ovenproof serving bowls. Top each with a piece of the toasted bread and dunk each piece quickly into the soup and let them float back to the top. Sprinkle cheese evenly on top of each slice. Set bowls on a baking sheet and carefully place the sheet under the broiler. Broil for 3-5 minutes, watching the tops carefully since the cheese could burn suddenly. Carefully remove when the cheese has melted and browned in spots. Allow bowls to cool for a couple of minutes, garnish with chives if using and serve.

Makes 4 servings.