French Onion Soup is a classic and comforting dish full of sweet, caramelized onions, crusty bread, and oozing cheese. It is a beautiful winter complement for a drier red wine from the Côtes du Rhône region.
French Onion Soup (or Soupe à l’oignon, pronounced SUP a l-ON-yon) is a brothy soup, rich with the flavor of caramelized onions and typically served gratinée (pronounced gra-TEN-ae) , or topped with toasted bread and cheese.
The legend goes that it was the French king Louis the XV who created French Onion Soup on a hunting trip, when nothing could be found in the lodge’s pantry except butter, onions, and champagne. While this is a nice story, the real origins of the soup are probably a bit closer to a collection of interpretations on a standard dish.
The concept of onion soup has been around since ancient Rome, when it was seen as a dish of the poor, since onions were such an easily grown crop. In the 17th century, a Frenchman in Paris began selling concentrated soups (what we would now call boullion) under the name of restaurant (meaning restoring), as a medicinal antidote. It is thought that his concentrated broths inspired the use of a beef broth in onions soup. That, paired with the Medieval use of bread as a necessary element to a ‘soup,’ carved the path to the French onion soup we know today. The mid 1900’s in the United States saw an incredible interest in French cuisine, and French onion soup became all the rage.
While this soup is not difficult to make, it does take a bit of time to develop that deep, caramelized onion favor. So, set your onions sautéeing, and just make sure you’re around to check on them every now and again as the heat works its magic.
This month the French Winophiles Group is exploring the Côtes du Rhône wine region of France. The Rhône Valley is located in the south of France, slightly north of the Mediterranean sea. The wine region is divided into the northern and southern areas of the region, with the north being full of steep hills and the birthplace of Syrah. The southern Rhône is more closely related to the Porvence region in climate and culture, with a distinct Mediterranean influence. This region is know for its Grenach.
While we were looking for a Syrah from the northern Rhône, we ended up finding a red blend from the southern part of the region: the 2012 Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages by Pierre Henri Morel. This wine comes from one of the most famous areas of the Rhône Valley: Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wine is a nice look at the regions more popular grapes, being a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, and 5%Carignan. We found the wine to be incredibly full bodied and quite dry, with notes of black cherry and dark chocolate. For those of you who fear drier wines, don’t be afraid, even though this wine was on the drier side, it had a very nice, lingering finish that made it quite pleasant to drink.
The pairing was spot on! The butter and cheese smoothed out the tannin and evened out the dryness of the wine. That being said, the wine still felt very alcoholic. Tim compared it to drinking a Manhattan, where you can taste the alcohol. We found that the sweetness of the soup accented the black cherry notes in the wine. And, interestingly enough, the wine actually accented the sweetness of the caramelized onions, making the soup taste sweeter and richer. All in all, it was a wonderful pairing for sitting back, relaxing, and taking the chill off of a fall or winter day.
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 6 large sweet onions, halved and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp thyme
- ½ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ c dry white wine (like a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc)
- 3 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
- 8 c beef broth*
- 2 Tbsp brandy (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 baguette, sliced 1” thick
- 1 c grated Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese
- In a wide soup pot, melt butter. When the butter is hot, add the sliced onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 50-60 minutes, reducing the heat to medium low half way through as the onions begin to stick.
- Once the onions are a deep, caramel-brown, add the wine and cook for 1-2 minutes, until it is reduced.
- Add the flour, mixing well and cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add the beef broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
- As the soup is simmering place the baguette slices under your oven’s broiler (set to medium) and toast for 3-5 minutes on each side, until lightly crisped.
- Remove the soup from the heat and add the brandy, if using. Mix well.
- Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
- Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls. Place a toasted baguette slice in each bowl and top the baguette slice with a generous sprinkling of cheese. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and place them in the oven. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Serve immediately.
Continue your exploration of the Côtes du Rhône wine region with these tasty pairings from the French #Winophiles group!
- Anna from Anna Dishes “Brown Butter Red Wine Filet with Mushrooms,Baby Potatoes & Asparagus”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Souk-Spiced Leg of Lamb with L’O de Joncier”
- Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “Costières de Nîmes – The Rising Star of the Rhone”
- Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva “Rhones Gone Crazy”
- David from Cooking Chat “Wine for Rustic Chicken and Sausage Stew”
- Jeff from foodwineclick shares “Roti de Cochon Tout Simplement et Hermitage“
- Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog “A Taste of Gigondas and Vacqueyras”
- Michelle from Rockin Red Blog “Separation of Church & Wine”
- Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere “French Onion Soup and Cotes du Rhone Wine”
- Wendy from A Day in the Life of a Farm “Braised Chicken with a Dual Pairing from Cotes du Rhone”