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PortWatch

January 9, 2013

Slim down French onion soup with Italy's help

Slim down French onion soup, with Italy's help

Everybody loves French onion soup, and with good reason. Caramelized onions swimming in a rich beef broth flavored with a splash of red wine or brandy and topped with broiled Gruyere cheese? Every warm, gooey mouthful lights up your taste buds like a pinball machine. It’s exactly what you want on a cold winter’s night.

But it is not light. In my quest to slim down this French classic I turned to Italy. I caramelized the onions in olive oil, rather than butter, swapped out the Gruyere in favor of Parmigiano-Reggiano (less fat and bigger flavor, so you can use less of it), and moved the croutons and cheese off the top to make room for a poached egg.

Finally, I added some pancetta for flavor, because we have to have a little fun.

I took much of my inspiration for this recipe from Cesare Casella, a brilliant Tuscan chef who used to hold court at Beppe, a wonderful restaurant within walking distance of my home in New York years ago, now long gone. I thought Casella’s soup really improved the French original. I especially like the addition of the egg. The yolk makes up for at least some of the richness lost when the Gruyere goes bye-bye.

But unlike Casella, I don’t have homemade beef stock just hanging around my kitchen, so I used chicken broth as the base. Once upon a time I couldn’t find store-bought beef broth that made the grade. Now Rachael Ray has come out with a good one. I recommend it.

If you’d like, you even can get a jump on this recipe by poaching the eggs ahead of time. Just cool them off after you’re done by transferring them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Then store them in the refrigerator on a plate covered with plastic wrap until you’re ready to reheat them. All you need to do is submerge them in a pan of barely simmering water for a minute or two.

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