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Onion Soup
This hearty soup captures the very essence of Paris. It gained its fame as the classic middle-of-the-night restorative during the heyday of Les Halles, the city's former wholesale food market, and was served in establishments big and small in the neighborhood. Today, you can still go to the onetime market quarter and order a bowl of the cheese-topped soup at the venerable Au Pied de Cochon (1er), which continues to nourish a steady stream of nighthawks who know where to find a meal when the rest of the city is asleep.

Serve with a classic bistro red wine, such as a Beaujolais from Côtes de Brouilly or Morgon.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1⁄2 lb. yellow onions
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups light red or dry white wine
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 slices coarse country bread,
     each 1 1⁄2 inches thick
  • 3 cups shredded Comté
     or Gruyère cheese

Directions:

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the onions lengthwise. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, adding the sugar and seasoning with salt and pepper, until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and lightly caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.

Add the wine, increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaf, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the soup simmer, uncovered, until it is dark and fully flavored, about 45 minutes. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly and the soup seems to taste too strong, add a little water, then cover the pot and continue cooking.

Just before serving, preheat an oven to 400°F. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast, turning once, until golden on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Arrange 6 ovenproof soup bowls on a baking sheet and ladle the hot soup into the bowls. Place a piece of toast on top of each bowl and sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and the toasts are lightly browned around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Paris, by Marlena Spieler (Oxmoor House, 2004).