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FRESH and Festive: French Onion Soup

OK, if I were the only one judging our global Food Fight this weekend, it would be no contest. Sure, I like Italian and Greek and pretty much all the world cuisines that our chefs will be demonstrating in the FRESH Taste Kitchen, but when it comes to international food, my heart will always belong to France.

Maybe it’s all the Julia Child shows I watched with my mom as a child, or maybe it’s just the romance of France, especially Paris, as a destination. Or, maybe it’s just that French cuisine has so many classic dishes and techniques. So much of what we know in the kitchen is rooted firmly in French tradition.

French dishes are often elegant and refined; yes, but to me, some of the best French food is rustic and hearty, like this French onion soup. The whole house smells wonderfully when you make this, a welcoming aroma for friends and family.

Classic French Onion Soup
2 oz (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, more for the baking sheet
4 medium-large Noonday onions (about 2 lbs), thinly sliced (8 cups)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 small FRESH baguette (1/2 lb), cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 quarts low sodium canned beef or chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups grated Gruyère cheese

Melt the butter in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Reduce the heat to low. Press a piece of foil onto the onions to cover them completely, cover the pot with a lid, and cook, stirring occasionally (you will have to lift the foil), until the onions are very soft but not falling apart, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the lid and foil, raise the heat to medium-high and stir in the sugar. Cook, stirring often, until very deeply browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the croûtes (baguette toasts), position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350° F. Butter a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the baguette slices on the sheet in a single layer. Bake until the bread is crisp and lightly browned, turning once, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.

Add the broth and bay leaf to the caramelized onions and bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Put 6 to 8 broilerproof soup bowls or crocks on a baking sheet. Put 2 or 3 croûtes in each bowl and ladle the hot soup on top.