Dear SOS: Some 40 years ago while in Paris, four of us made a late night trip to the Halles [produce] market. The workers were huddled around this stand that was selling onion soup and we ordered some to warm us up. It was fantastic! I hit upon Comme Ça and was delighted to find their soup.
Merle S. Glick
Dear Merle: Comme Ça's version of this classic hits all the right notes. Start with a generous amount of slowly caramelized onions, and gently simmer them in a broth brightened with a little Sherry and hints of thyme and bay leaf. Serve each portion topped with a slice of crusty French toast -- or two -- hidden under a creamy layer of melted Gruyère.
Soupe à l'oignon gratinée Total time: 3 hours Servings: 8 Note: Adapted from Comme Ça. 8 large yellow onions, halved and sliced lengthwise into 1/4 -inch strips 1/4 cup unsalted butter Salt 2 2/3 cups water, divided 2/3 cup dry Sherry 5 cups chicken broth (with as little sodium as possible) 2 2/3 cups beef broth 8 sprigs fresh thyme and one bay leaf, tied together Fresh ground black pepper 1 loaf French bread 1 pound Gruyère, grated 1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the onions and butter in large lidded casserole, season with one-fourth teaspoon salt, cover and place in the oven. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the onions are softened and a light golden-brown, about 1 1/2 hours. 2. Transfer the casserole to the stove-top and heat over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are a deep golden-brown and just begin to stick to the bottom of the pot to form a crust. 3. Add half of the water and cook, scraping the bottom constantly, until the water has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the Sherry and continue cooking until it has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. 4. Stir in the remaining water, chicken broth and beef broth, as well as the thyme bundle and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer and continue to cook for 40 minutes. Remove the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. 5. While the soup is simmering, prepare the toasts: Slice the French bread on a bias into one-half-inch thick slices large enough to fit inside of each soup bowl (use one toast if it will fit, two if the slices are smaller). Toast the bread until crisp and golden. Set aside. 6. Fill 8 oven-proof soup bowls with soup to one-half inch from the rim, making sure to distribute onions evenly between bowls. Lay the toasts on top of the soup, inside the edges of the bowl. Sprinkle the grated Gruyère evenly over the tops of the bowls and place the bowls under the broiler just until the cheese is bubbling and begins to brown in places. Serve immediately. Each serving: 490 calories; 27 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 78 mg. cholesterol; 808 mg. sodium.