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 at least 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 home-made 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.
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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.
Traditional French Onion Soup is a rich first course. This Italian-style onion soup is a full meal in a bowl.