Soup sans spoon

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French onion soup

Soupless French onion: We've dispensed with the soup, leaving unobstructed access to caramelized onions, blistered Gruyere and bread. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

If it's your first visit to Paris, you must take in the opera. It's required. If you elbow along Avenue de l'Opera and mount the steps of the ornate Opera Garnier, you will face ridicule.

The old Opera houses the ballet. The new Opera houses the opera. Across town.

If you dash to the Metro and rumble from old to new, minutes before curtain for "Carmen," you will be mildly frantic. Followed by mildly late.

If you arrive late, you will be directed to the penalty pen, where the oversize drama onstage is reduced to a small image on screen.

If you are 12, and a boy, you will take a keen interest in Act 1, particularly the brothel scene during which one singer dispenses with her costume, even with the sole word of French you know: brassiere. You lament the small screen.

After the opera you repair to the brasserie for late-night French onion soup. It's required. Though not compelling.

The caramelized onions and blistered Gruyere and crisp bread are obscured by a bowlful of bland broth. You'd prefer to dispense with the soup, leaving unobstructed access to onion and cheese and bread. If you ever get back to France, you're not going to miss the good parts.

Soupless French onion soup

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Serves: 8


4 medium onions

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons white port

8 thick slices country bread

4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Halve onions stem to root. Slice thinly crosswise. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 30 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook to a deep sticky brown, stirring attentively, about 15 minutes. Turn up heat, pour in port and de-glaze the pan — scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom.

In another skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add bread and toast golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

Set toasted bread on broiler rack. Spoon on caramelized onions. Top with cheese. Slide under a hot broiler until cheese has melted and goes golden crisp in spots, about 3 minutes. Enjoy solo, with salad or while thinking about soup.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at

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