Top | The Adaptable Feast

French Onion Soup

(recipe, Ivy Manning)

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French onion soup — full of caramelized onions, rich brown stock, and a gooey crust of cheese — is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food, but vegetarians usually have to sit out on the joys of this French classic because it is made with veal or beef stock. This recipe relies on the richness of well-caramelized onions, mushroom stock, and a Parmesan rind for a similar, satisfying flavor; a little beef bouillon in the omnivore's soup helps, too.


  1. 1½ lb. yellow onions (about 2 large onions)
  2. 2 Tbsp. plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  3. 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  4. 1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  5. 8 cups homemade mushroom stock or canned mushroom stock
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. One 2-inch piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  8. ¼ tsp. dried savory leaves
  9. Twelve ½-inch thick slices crusty baguette
  10. ½ tsp. minced garlic
  11. Salt and black pepper
  12. 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (about 8 ounces)
  13. 1 beef bouillon cube (I use Knorr brand), or 1 tablespoon veal demi-glace base
  14. 4 oven-safe soup bowls


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut off the onion root ends and tops and discard. Halve the onions lengthwise, peel, and slice thinly through the root end.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme sprigs and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions begin to burn; blackened onions will make the soup bitter.
  4. Add ½ cup of the vermouth, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the vermouth has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of vermouth; simmer and scrape until it has evaporated, 4 minutes. Transfer the onions to a 3-quart stockpot and add the mushroom stock, bay leaf, Parmesan rind, and savory leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
  5. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Smash the garlic to a paste with the side of a chef's knife and combine with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a small bowl. Brush the baguette slices with the mixture, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and bake until golden brown, 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.
  6. Place 1 slice of baguette at the bottom of each soup bowl. Adjust the oven rack so the soup bowls will be a few inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler.
  7. For vegetarians, remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and Parmesan rind from the soup and discard. Transfer 2½ cups of the soup to a small saucepan, season with the salt and pepper, and keep warm over low heat.
  8. Add the bouillon cube to the remaining soup in the large pot, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes to meld flavors. Season the soup with the salt and pepper.
  9. For vegetarians, ladle the vegetarian soup into 1 bowl, top with 1 baguette slice, and sprinkle with one quarter of the cheese. Set the bowl to one side of a rimmed baking sheet.
  10. Fill the remaining bowls with the bouillon-flavored soup; top with the remaining baguette slices and cheese as with the vegetarian soup. Place on the other side of the baking sheet.
  11. Broil the soups, watching closely, until the cheese is bubbly and brown, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.


Vegan variation: Omit the cheese rind in the soup and omit the cheese topping; serve with garlicky baguette toasts only.