I remember very well the first time I had French Onion Soup, I was 16 and a friend and I decided to go out to lunch at one of the “fanciest” restaurants in town. We were so excited, and felt so grown up! The restaurant was along the river, and for a smallish Iowa town in the mid 1970’s it was pretty up-town…or at least we thought it was! 😉 Anyway, we both had jobs so we thought we were pretty rich…that is until we looked at the menu! Imagine our surprise when we saw the prices and decided the only thing we could afford was a bowl of soup! But we played it cool, and each of us ordered the French Onion Soup like we’d had it dozens of times before! It was new to both of us, but we were 16 and wanted to be grownup, and we thought that sounded like the most “adult” soup on the menu. Yep…we were really cool!!! 😂
In retrospect I think it may have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! That bowl of soup was the most divine thing I’d ever tasted! In fact, it ignited a life long love affair with French Onion Soup…the rich broth, the sweet onions, the toasted bread, the ooey gooey cheese…all combined in one decadent and perfect bowl of soup! Up until that day I don’t know that I’d ever heard of French Onion Soup – I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come in a can! And I know we never had it growing up. My dad was a strictly meat and potatoes kinda guy. He would have scoffed at the idea of a bowl of soup with no meat and only onions in the broth!
Fast forward to today and innumerable bowls of French Onion Soup later, I’ve been craving a bowl of authentic French Onion Soup, but it’s not exactly a dish for someone trying to maintain a health conscious lifestyle. When made traditionally, the soup typically contains around 400 calories per serving, thanks in most part to the bread and cheese. So the dilemma…yummy, rich, flavorful soup without all the calories and fat…challenge accepted!
Tip: To make the Parmesean Crisps simply place little mounds of grated Parmesan cheese on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and bake at 400 degrees for 5-6 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly golden. They will crisp up very quickly upon removal from the oven. Watch them closely while baking as once they start to brown, they can get over done very quickly. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.
I decided to eliminate the bread because I don’t feel like that’s a make or break component of the soup for me, and I’m happy to nix the calories and carbs that bread contributes to the final nutritional score board. The mushrooms add a little more flavor and texture, which helps compensate for not having bread in the final recipe. The cheese, however, is a must-have to make this soup extra special. I avoid dairy for the most part – it doesn’t agree with me, and I’ve become accustomed to having it eliminated from my daily diet. The one dairy product I do splurge on, however, is the occasional little bit of Parmesan cheese. It seemed to me that serving Parmesan Crisps with the soup would be the best of both worlds…cheesy flavor, a little crunch, and when they melt into the piping hot soup it adds a little bit of that gooey goodness!
Is the finished product as decadent as that first bowl of French Onion Soup when I was 16? Nope…but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as delicious! And trading decadence for healthy is much more important to me at the age of nearly 56 than it was at 16! This recipe is simple, but takes a little more time than many of my soup recipes because the onions and mushrooms need to cook slowly, and require frequent stirring. But while they are cooking, it’s the perfect time to make the Parmesan Crisps. As with many soups, I think the flavor is more intense after refrigerating over night, so I recommend making the soup the day before you plan to serve it.
- 4-5 medium sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 1 pound baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 6 cups beef stock
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp real maple syrup
- 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- Melt butter in large stock pot over medium heat.
- Add onions, mushrooms, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine.
- Place lid on pot, and cook over medium-low heat for about 35-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and mushrooms softened.
- Remove lid and add maple syrup, garlic, thyme, and worcestershire sauce.
- Continue cooking uncovered and stirring occasionally, for approximately 20-30 more minutes until onions are dark and caramelized.
- Sprinkle flour over onions and mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook another 3 minutes.
- Pour in wine, then beef broth and stir well.
- Simmer an additional 30 minutes over medium-low heat until flavors are well combined and broth is slightly thickened.
- Check and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Toss grated Parmesan with 1/4 tsp thyme.
- Divide the Parmesan into 6 equal mounds on each baking sheet, then flatten slightly.
- Bake for 5-6 minutes, until melted and slightly golden, watching closely after the first 3-4 minutes.
- Remove from oven and slide paper onto counter to cool.
- The melted cheese will start to crisp up almost immediately as it begins to cool.
- Ladle soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with 2 Parmesan Crisps.
- The soup flavors intensify and deepen after refrigerating over night, so I recommend preparing the soup a day ahead.
- Serve with extra grated Parmesan cheese if desired.