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A Slow Simmer: French Onion Soup 

Published December 8, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

click to enlarge French onion soup - SAM SIMON
  • Sam Simon
  • French onion soup

My brother and I spent a lot of time, and ate many homemade meals, at my grandmother's house while we were growing up. That's where I learned my first lessons about cooking — especially during the holiday season, when my parents often worked extra hours and scrambled to get everything done.

Nana's house was always decorated beautifully with a big tree in the living room, greeting cards from friends hanging everywhere and a large chest that would slowly fill with gifts for friends and family as Christmas approached. She loved the season and always seemed to be enjoying herself, even in the midst of baking tray after tray of cookies, or prepping holiday menus for 14 people.

We'd head to her house after school and do our homework or draw at the table while she bustled around the kitchen making dinner. She and my grandfather always ate at 5 p.m. We'd eat with them, listening for the sound of our parents' car pulling into the driveway. The sky would be dark as midnight, a fire crackling in the fireplace.

Nana taught me how calming a good cooking project can be. She used those late-afternoon dinner preps to anchor herself during the hectic holiday season. In between managing my brother and me, preparing the house for company, shopping for gifts and volunteering at her church, she would simmer beef bones and make homemade stock for a giant pot of soup.

The lead-up to the holidays is just as busy for me now. My husband, Sam, and I work more hours, just like my parents did. Baking projects and shopping trips seem to multiply. School events monopolize many evenings. When I start to feel lost during these crazy months, I make a pot of soup. The process relaxes me, and the delicious results taste just like those cozy afternoons in Nana's kitchen.

French Onion Soup

This adaptation of Julia Child's traditional French onion soup requires cooking down a big pan of onions slowly and carefully. But, once that's done, all you have to do is wait while it simmers — and fills your house with the most delicious aroma.


  • 2 ½ pounds yellow onions (about 5-6 medium onions, or 6 cups sliced)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar for caramelizing the onions (optional)
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup white wine (optional)
  • 6 thick slices of a baguette
  • At least 6 slices of cheese (Gruyère, Parmesan and sharp cheddar all work. I used slices of Gruyère and a teaspoon of grated Parmesan on top of each.)
click to enlarge Thinly sliced onions - SAM SIMON
  • Sam Simon
  • Thinly sliced onions


  1. Thinly slice the onions: Cut each one in half without peeling. Then slice off the ends, remove the skin and make angled cuts along the natural lines of the onion aimed at its center (see photo).
  2. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Wait until the butter foams up and settles down, then add the sliced onions.
  3. Now comes the meditative part: Add a bit of salt, a sprinkle of black pepper and a teaspoon of sugar, if you like. Cook the onions, stirring frequently so they don't stick to the pan, until they're dark golden brown and caramelized. This will take anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes. Yes, really. Put on some music and enlist a helper. (I convinced my middle schooler to spend about 10 minutes stirring!) If the onions start to brown too quickly, or stick to the pan, lower the heat just a bit and stir some more.
  4. When the onions are almost ready, heat your broth in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. You want it to be warm but not boiling when you add the onions.
  5. When the onions are completely caramelized, add them to the warm broth along with the wine, if you're using it. Turn up the heat slightly and simmer the soup, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are very soft and look almost melted. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.
  6. Preheat your broiler.
  7. Toast the baguette slices and spread each side lightly with butter.
  8. Set six oven-proof bowls on a baking sheet. (I use ceramic ramekins, but Pyrex or even a jumbo muffin tin will work just as well.) Fill each about three-quarters full with hot soup. Top with a slice of toasted bread and a slice or two of cheese. When the broiler reaches full heat, put the bowls of soup in for three to four minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  9. Let cool briefly and serve.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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About The Author

Erinn Simon

Erinn Simon blogs for Kids VT.


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