If you like French Onion Soup, you will love a version you can eat with a fork.  The homemade recipe is vegetarian.

Kathy Whyte. WNBF News
Kathy Whyte. WNBF News

French Onion Casserole (Prep. time for homemade: 1 hour, 30 minutes.  “Hack” time: 40 minutes.  Serves 12 or more side dishes)

Homemade recipe (see the “hack” version at the end)

1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced (about ¼” thick)

½ loaf Bartard bread, cubed

1 C, Gruyere cheese, shredded

½ C. smoked Gouda, shredded

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 tsp. rosemary for croutons (plus a pinch more for the sauce)

2 Tb. olive oil

5 cloves roasted garlic or 2-3 raw cloves, finely diced (roast garlic ahead of time by cutting off the pointed end, drizzling with olive oil and salting.  Wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 min.)

1 Tb flour

½ to 2/3  quart vegetable stock

1 Tb. soy sauce

Salt and pepper as needed

In a large cast iron skillet, heat olive oil on high. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the sliced onions. (A Mandolin is a handy but very sharp tool for making consistent slices quickly) It’s going to take close to an hour for the onions to caramelize.  Heat oven to 350 as you cube the bread.  Spread the bread cubes out on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, cracked black pepper and the rosemary which has been crushed between your fingers.  Toss the cubes to evenly coat and put in the oven for about 10 minutes before turning to make sure sides are evenly browned.  Stir the onions occasionally. Once softened but not browned, add a pinch of salt to release more of the moisture.  Once the croutons are crunchy and brown, remove to a bowl and set aside.  On the same cookie sheet, spread out the diced carrots and celery. Add a little more olive oil if needed and return to the oven for about 10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.  Once the onions are lightly golden, and the vegetables are soft, combine then in the skillet along with the roasted garlic cloves (smushed) and stir in the flour, coating everything.  Turn up the heat to medium high and add the vegetable stock while stirring vigorously as the sauce thickens.  Stir in the soy sauce. Check for salt. Add cracked black pepper and a little more rosemary and salt, if needed.  Increase oven temperature to 375. Spray a 7”X11” baking pan with cooking spray. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, you can add more vegetable stock.  Once the sauce is the way you want it, spread a little on the bottom of the pan.  Layer on half of the croutons, more sauce, the cheese blend, a little more sauce, the rest of the croutons, the rest of the sauce, and top with the rest of the cheeses. Bake about 1/3 hour until bubbling and the cheese is melted.  Allow to rest a few minutes before serving.

(I served it as a side dish to a lemon rosemary chicken fillet.  Note: it's not so good reheated. All the croutons get mushy but the flavor is still there.)

Hack: (cuts the time by 45 minutes or more but not vegetarian.  Remember, you don’t have to make the full, homemade version all at once. The garlic can be roasted days ahead. The onions can be caramelized, the croutons toasted and the sauce finished at least a day in advance with just the assembly of the casserole and baking it when you want to serve it.)

Substitute canned French Onion Soup for the homemade sauce.  You still want to thicken it with butter and flour.  Still saute or roast the carrots and celery and stir into the sauce. Use finely chopped garlic instead of the roasted garlic cloves.  Use store-bought croutons instead of making your own.  You can still grate your cheeses or just cut slices of Swiss cheese into little strips to layer in the casserole.  Still bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.

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