Onion soup for fall

Beef broth, melted cheese and baguette slices make French onion soup pure comfort food on a cool day.

French onion is one of my favorite soups, especially in the fall. The hearty beef broth flavor, the silky melted cheese and the baguette slices toasted just right make it pure comfort food on a cool day. Add a side salad, and it becomes a complete, satisfying meal.

One key to a tasty onion soup is the cooking of the onions. You can use plain yellow onions or sweet onions, but cook them slowly. Their natural sugars will release and melt, then brown or caramelize. If you hurry, the onions might become too crisp and brown too quickly, and their melting sugars can burn.

If the onions get too crunchy, it's best to remove them from the pan and start over. Use the crisped onions for something else, like topping for a green bean casserole.

The way you slice the onions also matters. Slice them 1/4-inch thick. That way they won't completely cook down to next to nothing.

It will take about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every so often, to properly caramelize onions. In the end, they should be a nice dark honey color.

Cheese is another factor. Gruyere, a cow's milk cheese with a slightly nutty flavor, often is used. But you can use many cheeses.

Today's recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's. The original recipe calls for Morbier cheese, but I substituted Muenster because it's a good melting cheese.

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds yellow onions, peeled, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sherry

8 cups fat-free, lower sodium beef or vegetable broth

4 sprigs thyme

1/4 cup port wine, optional

1/2 French baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 clove garlic, cut in half

6 slices (about 1-ounce each) Muenster or Morbier cheese

Directions

In a large pot or Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until dark golden and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; continue boiling until reduced by half.

Add the broth and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until onions are very soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in port, if using.

Meanwhile, heat broiler with rack in middle. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil until lightly toasted. Remove and rub the cut side of the garlic on the slices.

When the soup is done, turn the broiler back on and ladle the soup into 6-ounce ramekins. Top each with a toasted baguette slice or two. Drape cheese on top of bread so it hangs over the edge of the ramekin slightly. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until cheese is browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Halloween, October issue.