French (Red) Onion Soup

I have been reading a lot lately about the trade war over Roquefort cheese—a trade war that was advanced by Bush in retaliation for France’s unwillingness to accept imports of hormone-containing beef from the US (and likely influenced by residual anti-France sentiment in the USA post-September 11th). In January, before leaving office, the Bush government imposed a 300% tariff (raising it from an already steep 100%) on the import of Roquefort, essentially stopping its sale in the US.

The story seems to highlight the complexities of the global food trade and raises interesting questions for all of us about how things like Roquefort cheese fit into our diets. Critics of locally-centered diets often address the responsibilities we have to the global economy. Many of the imports we enjoy are also the primary income sources for their region of origin and by no longer purchasing these imports we will be affecting the economies of the exporting countries. The higher tariffs will likely hurt the economy of the area in France surrounding Roquefort which depends entirely on cheese. What does that mean to us, do we have responsibilities to the food economies we have created? Although I’ve never claimed to be a “localvore”, I do try to buy locally grown produce, meat and dairy as often as possible. I make exceptions all of the time and one of those exceptions is cheeses from Europe.

I don’t have any answers, but I am interested in these questions. Eating in a way that feels responsible and ethical is incredibly complicated.

So, how does this lead to French Onion Soup? It doesn’t really. Although, it did prompt me to look through last year’s issue of Gourmet that was dedicated to France. It arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks after Bryan and I returned from Paris and it felt like a wonderful souvenir of our trip. It featured many of the places we were lucky enough to eat at during our stay. This recipe for an updated take on French Onion Soup stood out the first time I flipped through the magazine and as we all suffer through these final weeks of winter, it seems like a good time for a bowl of soup.

This isn’t your grandma’s french onion soup, it is brighter and fresher but still very delicious. The addition of star anise is what really sets this soup apart. It complicates it in a way that transforms the dish. I topped the soup with Manchego cheese, but you could just as easily use Gruyère. It comes  together in about 20 minutes and makes for a really good week night meal.

Oh, and the Roquefort tariff is scheduled to increase on March 22nd, so go buy some of the cheese while you can still afford it!

French Red Onion Soup (adapted from Gourmet, September 2008)

  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 lbs red onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • slices of baguette
  • 2 cups grated Manchego cheese

Bring broth, water, spices and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook onions in oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a heavy medium pot over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until deep golden, about 20 minutes. Add the wine and boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 1 minute.

Strain broth through a sieve into onion mixture and briskly simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Season with salt.

Preheat broiler. Ladle soup into 4 ovenproof bowls set in a 4-sided sheet pan. Place baguette slices on top and sprinkle each with 1/2 cup cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes.

21 comments to “French (Red) Onion Soup”

  1. an improvement on a classic? quite possibly! looks fabulous!

    cheers,

    *heather*

  2. Wow, this really looks delicious! My mom’s recipe is fairly similar, but I’m digging the addition of star anise!

  3. Oh this looks wonderful! I love onion soup- I’ll have to try this version next time!

  4. It’s cold and rainy in southern california, and I’m going to make this for dinner tonight. I love that you use chicken stock instead of beef–thank you!

  5. Yum! Used to live in NL and when ever I’d go to Amsterdam, I always would go have french onion soup at this little resturant on the Museum Plein, across from the Van Gogh museum. It was the absolute best ever! I’ve never made onion soup, now I just might have to! Looks GOOD!

  6. Deep down inside we have a preference for red onions. It’s just one of those things. Love that you changed up the recipe and used red instead!

  7. I loved that issue of Gourmet – especially the part about the French cheese! We have been enjoying star anise a lot lately so I am interested to give this recipe a try. Do you know of any efforts to repeal the tariff? I am already incensed over the restriction of raw milk cheese imports and hearing this really makes me angry.
    Phoo-D

  8. Yes, I have read that meetings are taking place to discuss the issue and it seems as though the French are optimistic that Obama might overturn some of these rulings. We’ll see…

  9. I hadn’t heard about this cheese situation we’ve got on our hands. It seems crazy to me. Anyways, the soup looks delicious. I love a nice French onion. The flavors are so deep and complex, and it’s a breeze to make.

  10. this looks so awesome! can’t wait to try it!!

  11. YES! Another recipe to use star anise. I bet the sharpness of the red onion with the sweetness of the anise is divine!

  12. I love star anise, and I love french onion soup, but I never would have thought to combine the two. Very inspired… I’m excited to try it.

  13. I have never used star anise before, I looked it up on wikipedia, but it shows a picture of seeds inside the star pods. Just throw the whole thing in there or just the seeds? Do you actually include it in the bowls then for the broiling part or is it just for flavoring the broth?

  14. Hi Jenny: You use the whole pod. The anise is used to flavor the broth and then is strained out and discarded when you add the broth to the onions. I hope that helps!

  15. Lovely post. That issue of Gourmet made me yearn to go to France. I have only been once (to Paris) for 3 days, when I was 18 and just tried to cram as much in as I could.

  16. What a gorgeous looking onion soup. My mouth just waters. Thank you for the recipe.

  17. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou! This is most amazing soup! I made it this weekend. I was not able to find star anise anywhere, so I used fennel instead as I figured the flavours are similar, and I used Gruyere cheese. Awesome does not even come close to describing how wonderful this is :)

  18. Natasha: Great! I am so glad you liked it. Fennel sounds like it would be delicious.

  19. Oh my God. Red onions, machego cheese and star anise?? This, I have to try. It sure ain’t your grandmother’s soup, that’s for sure.

  20. Finally made this yesterday. It is a great recipe and beautifully simple to make and was really appreciated by all of us at supper. In the absence of Manchego and Gruyère I used parmesan (I know sounds weird but it works if you butter the bread and sprinkle on lots of grated parmesan)
    I am English but I live in Rome and here I feel very aware of the muddle that surrounds the import and export of food. I know local producers who wouldn’t survive without export and the international market and others that are struggling and will probably fail because of it.
    It’s difficult. We have a responsibility to think about it.

  21. This soup was absolutely delicious. I used vegetable broth instead of chicken to much success. The anise is brilliant. THANK YOU!

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