There was this time when I had a few hours to kill in Paris. That might sound more romantic than it really was. At the time, the sky was dumping upon us the worst kind of European winter rain; the type of cold wet that gets you shivering deep into your bones. We, a group of two tired and squabbling couples, were strapped into our oversized backpacks with rain gear on, wandering aimless along the flooded, gray streets of the City of Light.
It’s moments like these that are the nightmares for backpackers around the world. You just need to find a spot of warmth for a few minutes that unfortunately the train station and metro doesn’t provide. And more unfortunately, if you want that warmth, you’re going to have to pay for it. With eight hours to spare before our next train, we knew this was going to cost us way more of our precious Euros than we had planned.
We first stopped at a little café for a hot cup of Espresso. When those went down too fast and we were feeling the pressure to gather our gargantuan packs (which were taking up their own table and dripping rain all over the floor) and leave, we ordered some Crème Brulee. The problem with Crème Brulee is that it is way too good to eat slowly, especially when you’re sharing one dish amongst four weary souls. So, after paying our bill, we were out in the rain once again.
We walked and we walked, until we were so soaking wet and shaking that we couldn’t take it anymore. We popped into a restaurant off a main street and were promptly given the evil eye by the waitstaff as we asked for a table. None the less, we were seated in a booth shielded from the bustle of the dinnertime rush hour.
While I wasn’t sure if anything would melt my icy bones, I figured a hot bowl of French Onion Soup had a good shot. We ordered two bowls to be split amongst the table, and the combination of the wine drenched broth and the melted cheese on top did just the trick. For a minute there, we were all warm. For a minute there, we were all smiling and happy, relieved not only of the weight from our packs, but also the stress of the day. Later that night we’d catch a train on it’s way to Italy where we would find warmer days and explore ancient ruins. But for that one moment in Paris, we were all in heaven.
This is not that soup. Nothing will ever be ‘that’ soup. But this is an attempt to replicate everything about ‘that’ soup for you. With the wintery weather mix we’ve been having all across the country, ‘this’ soup could become ‘that’ soup for you… especially if you’re in need, like we were that fateful day. The flavors are all there, and when it comes right out of the oven, it will thaw the thickest of frosts.
My trick is to have a batch ready and waiting in the fridge to be called upon for duty. Warm it up on the stove, pour it in an oven safe bowl, add a slice of Swiss cheese on top, and pop it in the oven until the cheese melts. Or even easier, just toss in some ready-made Parmesan croutons and dig in.
This soup has the amazing ability to warm not only your bones, but your soul, too. And it seems like that’s something all of us could use during a cold stretch like this one. Keep warm my friends!
- 2 Tablespoons of Butter, plus an additional 1 Tablespoon for the Croutons
- 4 Large Yellow Onions, halved and then thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon of Salt
- ½ teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
- 4 Cups of Vegetable Broth
- 1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce
- 3 Tablespoons of White Wine
- 1 Clove of Garlic, minced
- 3 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ⅓ Cup of Parmesan Cheese, shredded
- 6 Slices of Swiss Cheese
- In a large pot, melt the 2 Tablespoons of Butter and then add the Onions and Salt. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Next, toss in the Mustard and a sprinkling of Thyme, mixing everything in with the Onions. Cover the pot and allow the Onions to cook down in their own juices for 35 minutes.
- Add in the Broth, Soy Sauce, Wine, and Pepper to taste with the Onions. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes so the flavors meld. Taste and adjust your seasonings as needed.
- Meanwhile, you can prepare the Croutons. Preheat the oven to 400F. Heat the remaining 1 Tablespoon of Butter in a skillet until it melts, and then add in the Garlic, cooking it until it begins to brown. Toss in the Bread and stir everything around so each piece is evenly coated in Butter. Allow the Bread to toast for about 10 minutes and then transfer it to a baking dish. Sprinkle the top of the Bread with the Parmesan, and then bake the Bread in the oven until it is crisp and the cheese has melted. Let cool and set aside.
- If serving with Swiss Cheese, place serving sizes of the soup in oven safe bowls. Lay a slice of Swiss Cheese on top of the soup and put the bowls in the oven. Make sure the oven is heated to the max temperature that your dish will allow, and broil if you can. Keep an eye on your soup, and once the cheese has melted and browned in some spots, remove the soup from the oven. Sprinkle with croutons and serve immediately.