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How to make a lighter version of French onion soup

Deeply flavorful broth with slow-cooked onions is topped

Deeply flavorful broth with slow-cooked onions is topped with Gruyere toasts in this updated version of French onion soup. Credit: Marge Perry

Once upon a time, onion soup was all about the rich, deeply flavorful broth, and not about a giant slab of gooey melted cheese atop a lusciously sodden piece of bread. The cheesy bread became the focal point, and the soup little more than a vessel for serving it. It was delicious, in an outrageous, over-the-top decadent way.

We have plenty of indulgences at this time of year. The warm, soul-satisfying pleasure soup brings needn’t be accompanied by massive amounts of calories and fat. I’ve tweaked what we have come to know as onion soup to not only be healthier, but also simpler to make. To be clear: it is a delicious onion soup that nods its head at the cheese-heavy "French" version because it has the same combination of flavors. This version is elegant, but certainly not austere, and makes as good a focal point of a weeknight dinner as it does a starter for a more elaborate holiday meal.

Set aside some time when you will be home to make the soup. The preparation is very simple, but the cooking time, which is largely unattended, is nearly 90 minutes. The onions may be made well in advance and frozen, and/or the soup may be made several days in advance and the cheese-topped bread added just before serving.

Onion Soup 2.0

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 large Vidalia onions (about 3 ½ pounds), very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

¼ cup dry vermouth

¾ teaspoon salt (and possibly more to taste)

½ teaspoon black pepper

6 cups unsalted (or low sodium) chicken or beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

6 ounces French bread baguette, cut in 12 slices

6 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

1. Heat the oil in a 6-quart saucepan over medium. Add the onions, sugar and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply golden, about 45-50 minutes. (Do not hurry this step: the onions should cook slowly until meltingly tender and sweet.) Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute. Add the vermouth, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute. Pour in the broth and Worcestershire sauce, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 30 minutes, until reduced to 7-71/2 cups.

2. Preheat the broiler.

3. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil until 1 side is toasted, about 1 minute. Turn the bread over, top with the cheese and broil until the cheese is just melted. Ladle the soup into 6 bowls and top each with 2 slices of bread.

Makes 6 servings

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