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© 2013 mathewguiver

French onion soup topped with potatoes and gruyere

In about a week I’m going to be meeting my boyfriend’s mother for the first time. I know, it’s a pretty big deal. Though I’ve already met his sister and nephew (both of whom seem to love me), and David’s already met my parents and brother, this will be my one and only opportunity to make a good first impression on his mother. The anxiety is definitely getting to me, and I’ve got the lower back pain to prove it!

For the past few weeks I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to come up with the perfect meal to serve David’s mom (Esti) for dinner. First and foremost, I’ll be making a challah. I’ve actually been practicing my challah skills for the past month in anticipation of the visit.

In addition to the challah, I know that I want to make a jam, a salad, chocolate mousse for dessert, and some type of soup. Everything will be made from scratch, and I’m planning to dedicate the better part of a day to cooking. For some reason though, it’s taken me a while to decide on a soup to serve.

Initially, I’d been thinking of a french onion soup. I’ve only made it a handful of times, and thought it’d be a good dish to impress Esti. Since I’m making a challah, I though I’d top the soup with potato pieces instead of more bread.

I did a test run for David and a friend of ours, and the soup came out incredible. It’s bit sweeter than most french onion soups, as I use oven roasted garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

The potatoes were a perfect substitution for the bread topping. To be honest, I’ll probably use potatoes when I next make french onion soup even if I’m not serving it with a homemade challah.

However, I actually decided not to make it for the Friday night dinner with David’s mom. Why? Because it took so damn long to make. I don’t usually avoid dishes that are labor intensive, I embrace them. I honestly love working in the kitchen, but in looking at the menu I’ve already put together, adding in a soup that takes between 2 and 3 hours of solid preparation time simply isn’t going to work. There are only so many hours in the day, and with the unpredictable traffic in Los Angeles, the french onion soup has become a risk I’m not willing to take.

People always ask me what my best tip is for hosting a good meal, and my answer is always straightforward: never make a dish for the first time when you’re planning to serve it to guests. If I have a new recipe I want to try, I’ll always do a test run a few days ahead of the party or gathering at which I intend to serve the dish. You never know if you’re going to need to make adjustments based on the humidity in the air, what produce is in season, personal spice preference, etc., and it’s always good to make those changes when you don’t have hungry guests in the next room.

This french onion soup is a perfect example of why I always do test cooking in advance. If I’d just gone for it next week then I would have probably been rushed, and the final product would have suffered. Instead, I was able to get material for a blog post, and also decide on a different, less labor intensive soup to make next weekend. Mission accomplished!


2 garlic cloves
3 yellow onions
1 white onion
1 red onion
1 potato
3 springs thyme
3 fresh bay leaves
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 c chardonnay
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
32 oz container of vegetable stock
Gruyere cheese
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
White pepper


1. Start by roasting a clove of garlic. It will need both time to cook and cool before you can handle it. Using a sharp knife, cut the tops off your garlic cloves.

2. Tear off two small sheets of aluminum foil, and pour a bit of olive oil in the center of each. Place garlic cut side down into the oil.

3. Fold edges of foil together to form pouches for your garlic. Roast at 370 degrees for 30 or so minutes.

4. Carefully unwrap foil pouches and set aside to cool while you begin work on the onions for your soup.

5. Chop onions into large slices. They’ll cook down to almost nothing, so don’t worry about perfection.

6. Place onions and canola oil in a large soup pot and begin cooking over medium heat.

7.  Sprinkle with baking powder. This will help expedite the caramelizing of your onions.

8. Once the onions have begun to go soft, add thyme and bay leaves. You’ll be removing these later, but you want the flavors to infuse the soup.

9. Continue cooking onions and herbs until they have gone brown and mushy. This can take between 20 and 30 minutes, and will require constant stirring. Another trick is to add a bit of water as you cook the onions. It will help them brown faster, and also break up some of the chunks.

10.  Deglaze the pan with your chardonnay then continue simmering over medium heat until most of the liquid has cooked off. Remove bay leaves and thyme stems. One the onion mixture has turned into a thick brown paste, add butter and stir until it’s melted.

11. Sprinkle flour over the onion mixture, stir, and cook for about a minute and a half.

12. Slowly add stock while stirring constantly. Now is also a good time to add your balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic. To add the garlic, just squeeze the roasted clove from the non cut end. As you push forward the soft garlic cloves will come right out.

13. Continue cooking for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until thickened.

14. At this point you should taste your soup and season appropriately. This will be your last chance to enhance the flavor of the soup before broiling it in the oven.

15. Before assembling your soup ramekins you’ll need slice and cook up your potato. Just be sure your slices are about the same size so that they cook in the same amount of time.

16. Boil in heavily salted water until fork tender. Though you’ll be putting your soup into the oven, it’s only to melt the cheese so you’ll want to make sure the potatoes are fully precooked.

17. Strain and rinse potatoes.

18. Ladle soup into ramekins sitting on a cookie sheet. For this dish I went with larger ramekins, but if you only had small dessert ramekins then they’ll totally work. No ramekins? No problem. You could always bake the soup in one large dish then serve in smaller bowls.

19. Top with potatoes, then a heavy handful of grated gruyere cheese.

20. Set oven to broil, and place cookie sheet with ramekins on the closest rack to the top. Cook until the cheese has melted and gone crispy. Since we’re using potatoes instead of bread, they will sink in a bit under the broiler. No need to worry though, you want this to happen.

21. Top with additional thyme and serve!


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