We love good French onion soup here. We also love camping. Unfortunately, the very best part about this particular soup is the crouton and melted cheese on top, something that has been pretty impossible to make work while camping.
Until now. I thought of this a couple summers ago when cooking for a closing work party crew at the end of camp; the goal is to create as gourmet a dinner as possible using up leftover food without having to purchase anything additional, and that particular summer included about 15 pounds of extra grated cheese. We made about 200 herbed frico (basically, just a piece of fried cheese) and topped them with all sorts of things as part of a rather large wine and hors d'oeuvres hour spread (yes, we may be dirty mountain women, but we eat and drink very, very well). Seeing about 50 frico cooking at once on the huge, vintage camp griddle was quite a sight, and I realized that this little food gem is way underutilized yet so easy to make in the backcountry.
If you make this while camping, feel free to cook the onions at home first to save on stove fuel. At your campsite, reheat the onions with a little sherry before adding the garlic, and the rest of the recipe may be done easily over a camp stove.
2 T olive oil
4 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine or sherry
2 t dried thyme
2 T butter (optional)
Salt and pepper
4-5 cups good quality beef or mushroom stock
2 bay leaves
4 slices whole wheat (or other sturdy) bread
Olive oil spray
4 oz swiss or gruyere cheese, grated
4 T parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh parsley, optional
- Over your camp stove, heat your olive oil for about a minute. Add the onions and stir over medium low flame for about 45 minutes or until onions are very soft and brown. If they stick to the pot, add a few teaspoons of water or sherry. (This step may be done at home, if you’re worried about using too much stove fuel. Cook the onions, seal them, and finish the soup at your campsite).
- Add garlic and cook another two minutes.
- Add white wine or sherry to deglaze pot. Add thyme. Add butter, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add bay leaves and stock and bring to a light simmer for about fifteen minutes.
- While stock is simmering, use your camp mug to cut perfectly fitted croutons out of your bread slices – you want the crouton to fit snugly into the top of your mug.
- Spray lightly with olive oil and toast in a nonstick frying pan.
- Using your mug as a guide, mix the grated cheeses and sprinkle into a circle just a little bit bigger than the top of your mug. Cook over low heat about two minutes, or until cheese is soft and bubbly and most of it has melted.
- When there is just a little bit of unmelted cheese left, carefully flip it over and cook another few seconds.
- Remove your cheese round (also called a "frico") and immediately place it on top of your crouton (the second side is the one that should face the bread, as it is softer and will make the frico stick to the crouton, leaving the toasty side facing up). Fill mugs with soup, top with parsley if desired, and place the cheesy crouton on top.
- Let soup penetrate the crouton 1-2 minutes; this will re-soften the cheese if it has hardened a bit.