French Onion and Mushroom Soup with Gruyere Toasts
It is cold, therefore, there is soup. This is how I feel all winter long, and there is nothing that makes me happier and more comforted than a warm bowl of soup. There was research done once to actually prove that foods we eat from a bowl are more comforting than foods in a plate and I could not agree more.
I love French onion soup of course, but sometimes feel it's almost a bit sweet. I was looking for something to cut through that when I remembered I had a jar of dried mushrooms in the back of my pantry. Mushrooms, with their earthy richness, make the perfect ingredient to solve my problem. I added them to a storebought broth to amp it up; I find storebought broth doesn't taste like much on it's own. After they gave their life and flavour to the broth, I chopped them up and added them to the soup itself. Dried mushrooms truly are the gift that keeps on giving.
Without proper ramekins to serve this soup in the classic style, I settled for some sort of open faced grilled cheese/ cheesey toast situation. No surprise there were no complaints! Moral of the story - involve cheese and people will be happy.
Ingredients (makes about 4 bowls)
1 box low sodium beef broth
handful thyme sprigs
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dried mushrooms
reserved mushroom stems (see below)
2 tbsp butter
4 thyme sprigs
3 large yellow onions, sliced thinly into half moons
2 lb mixed mushrooms (I used mix of cremini and shitake), stems removed and reserved for broth, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp soy sauce
chopped parsley, for garnish
4-8 slices thick crusty bread
1-2 tbsp truffle oil (optional)
many slices Gruyere cheese
Heat the purchased beef broth in a pot with the mushroom stems, thyme, bay leaf, smashed garlic, and dried mushrooms. Bring to a simmer and let the flavours infuse while you prep the ingredients and cook the veggies.
Melt the butter in a wide pot over medium heat. You want a lot of surface area here but remember this will have to hold your soup so it must have high enough sides. Add the thyme and let it cook for a moment in the melting butter before adding the onions and a big pinch of salt. The salt is so important both for flavour but also to help bring out the water in the onions and soften them. Place a lid on top to create some steam which helps to promote quicker and more even cooking. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and give them a stir. From here on out, you want to stir every once in a while to prevent sticking. You do not want to stir consistently because all the flavour is in the browning, which will no have the chance to happen if you keep consistently stirring. If the onions are catching, you can add a splash or water or broth. This will take about 30-40 minutes by the time the onions are deeply caramelized.
Remove the onions from the pan and add the mushrooms and another good pinch of salt and pepper. Again, this helps to draw out their moisture and get them going. The mushrooms will release their moisture, then it will evaporate. The mushrooms should be nice and soft before you add the onions back. Add the white wine and allow this to cook off. Scrape off any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as it cooks. Add the soy sauce and the broth (draining out all the aromatics here). Pick out the dried mushrooms, chop them up, and add them to the soup.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush the bread lightly with truffle oil if using. Lay cheese slices on top and broil the bread until the cheese is melted and crusting onto the sides of the bread (bonus points if it melts onto the parchment paper and crisps onto that - cheese chips!).
To serve, ladle soup into a bowl and top with crusty cheesey bread and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley. Be full, be warm, be happy. Enjoy!