In deep winter, one thing we still have plenty of at the farm stands and local markets is onions, and we’re using them three ways here: caramelized, onion stock and French onion soup.
This vegetarian variation on French onion soup gets a twist with the additions of local apple cider, maple syrup and a luscious nutty cheese.
While you can always use a prepared vegetable stock and skip right to the onion soup, it’s fun now and then to start the whole process from scratch, and the bonus is the delightful caramelized onions to slather on baguette slices or top veggies or proteins.
If making onion stock, it should be your starting point. Most of the work in all this is the slicing of the onions, which takes both time and tears. If you remember to put your onions in the refrigerator beforehand to chill, you will have far less tears. Once the onions are sliced, the rest is a breeze.
A little apple cider added to the soup lends a bit of tart, and just a drizzle of maple syrup reinforces the sweetness of the onions, but this amount won’t scream maple.
Classic French onion soup has a beautiful slice of toasted baguette or sourdough bread floating on the soup and covered with the cheese. A better technique is to toast the bread, rub it with a little garlic and then cut it into bite-sized cubes. Who wants to eat their soup with a knife?
Traditionally, a melty Swiss cheese tops this soup. I’ve subbed “Rupert,” from Consider Bardwell Farm, a European Alpine style raw-milk cheese like Gruyère. It has a beautifully nutty flavor, smooth texture, and it’s local, which is always best. Available at the well-stocked cheese counters in the area, you can usually find it at Healthy Living in Burlington.
Vermont onion soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 large yellow onions, about 3 lbs.,
sliced pole to pole
2 tablespoons dark amber maple syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup brandy or cognac, optional
1/2 cup apple cider
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups onion or more vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
clove of garlic
8 ounces Rupert or other Swiss-style
Heat a sauté pan over medium high and add the oil and butter. Once the butter is melted, add onions along with the maple syrup and season with salt and pepper. Toss well to coat the onions with the fats. Turn the heat down and cook over low heat for 45 minutes or so, until the onions just start to caramelize, but still retain texture.
Once the onions are where you want them, add the garlic until fragrant, about a half minute, then deglaze with the brandy and cider, scraping up any brown in the pan, and add the stock, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes; you don’t want the onions to get too soft. Taste for seasoning.
Meanwhile, toast slabs of the baguette. Cool and rub with the garlic clove. Cut the bread into bite-sized cubes.
Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, add a half teaspoon or so more brandy to each. This will cut the sweetness of the onions. You can also add apple cider vinegar here if you wish to avoid alcohol.
Add a topping of the croutons. Sprinkle a liberal amount of grated cheese over each one and pop under the broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Serve piping hot!
Serves six to 10 depending, on the size of the bowl and whether you are serving it as a starter or main course.
Caramelized onions and onion stock
Use a large stainless-steel skillet here, this is not the place for non-stick. As the onions slowly cook, a heavy brown glaze will form on the bottom of the pan which provides most of the flavor in the stock.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large, yellow onions, sliced pole to pole
1 large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
End trimmings from the vegetables
1/3 cup white wine
Half a bunch of flat leafed parsley,
stems and all
8 cups of water
Heat a large skillet over medium high and add the butter and olive oil. Toss in the onions and immediately turn down the heat to low. Let them cook until soft and browned, up to an hour, stirring occasionally. This is about patience.
Remove half the onions to use as caramelized onions on toast or vegetables; this is the treat. To the rest in the pot add the carrot, celery and trimmings and continue cooking for about five minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scrape up every bit, toss in the parsley and bay leaf, add water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and cook for another 20 minutes, then strain.
Use this stock in soups, stew, sauces and even as the liquid in cooking rice or other grains.