Carabaccia – Tuscan Onion Soup

AuthorAnn Gaffney
RatingDifficultyBeginner

If you’ve been hankering after for a really good onion soup, Carabaccia, the Tuscan Red onion soup is it. It's easy to make. All it needs a bit of time to cook the onions down until they are sweet and jammy.

Now it’s been said that the best of French cuisine was brought to France by the chefs of Catherine De Medici, a feisty Florentine if ever there was one, when she married into the French royal family back in the 16th century. Among the delights her chefs probably cooked in the French court was a delicious ‘carabaccia’, a soup made from red onions a soup that has its origins in ancient Rome and is eaten in Tuscany to this day. Since the Roman Empire covered much of Europe for centuries, it 's likely a reach to say that Catherine’s chefs brought onion soup to France, but as a person of Italian heritage, I love the idea that this French classic might have come from Italy.

Carabaccia is basically a poor person’s food and to make it more special back in Catherine’s day it was cooked with honey and cinnamon, expensive ingredients only the wealthy could afford to use. This modern version gives these two ingredients a pass for a long slow cooking of the onions to bring out their sweetness perfectly with an assist from some chopped dates. You could still add a cinnamon stick along with the dates if the mood takes you, but I prefer it without. Unlike its beefy French cousin, this onion soup is made with either chicken or vegetable stock, allowing it to adapt perfectly to a plant based diet. Here’s the recipe. It’s pretty simple.

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Yields6 Servings
Prep Time25 minsCook Time1 hrTotal Time1 hr 25 mins
 5 large red onions, about 4 pounds, peeled and thinly sliced {see Ann’s Tip)
 2 tbsp olive oil
 68 cups warm vegetable or chicken broth
 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
 2 bay leaves
 23 pitted dates chopped
 1 Whole dried red chili pepper (optional)
 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice.
  Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
 6 slices whole-wheat sourdough grilled
  cup each of grated Gruyère, Parmesan and pecorino cheese - optional or to taste
Method:
1

Heat the oil over medium high flame in a 7 quart Dutch oven. Add the sliced onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook stirring until they start to get soft and transparent, about 2-3 minutes. Partially cover and turn the flame down to medium low. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are very soft, slightly caramelized and jammy looking, about 15-20 minutes.

2

Turn up the heat to medium high. Add garlic and cook stirring until that softens, about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaf, dates, chili pepper if using and 2 cups stock. Stir to mix. Cook uncovered for about 40 minutes adding more stock as the soup thickens until you’ve used it all up. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice. Adjust for salt and pepper. Let the soup sit 10 minutes off the heat while you prepare to serve. At this point the soup can be chilled and frozen.

3

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C or turn on the broiler. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl. Set aside. Lay out 6 oven-proof soup bowls on a sheet pan for easy handling. Set aside.

4

There are 2 methods of serving the soup. They’re both good so it’s really a matter of taste which you choose. Here they are:

  1. Lay a slice of grilled bread at the bottom of each individual bowl. Ladle the soup over it. Spoon the cheese over the top of the soup. Repeat. Place soups in the oven on a high shelf. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and is flecked with brown. Let sit a couple of minutes. Serve.
  2. Ladle the soup into individual oven-proof soup bowls. Lay the grilled bread on top and spoon cheese over bread to cover. Place soups under the broiler on a low rung. Broil until cheese is melted and is flecked with brown. Serve immediately.

Ann’s Tips

4 lbs is a lot of onions to slice, especially as they need to be thinly cut, but a mandoline set at 1/8th inch makes short work of them. The onions will lose some of their color as they cook, and when the soup is cold they can look a little grey, but never fear, their color warms up again as the soup heats through.

If you’ve been hankering after for a really good onion soup, Carabaccia, the Tuscan Red onion soup is it. It's easy to make. All it needs a bit of time to cook the onions down until they are sweet and jammy.

Nutrition Facts

Servings 6

 

Ingredients

 5 large red onions, about 4 pounds, peeled and thinly sliced {see Ann’s Tip)
 2 tbsp olive oil
 68 cups warm vegetable or chicken broth
 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
 2 bay leaves
 23 pitted dates chopped
 1 Whole dried red chili pepper (optional)
 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice.
  Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
 6 slices whole-wheat sourdough grilled
  cup each of grated Gruyère, Parmesan and pecorino cheese - optional or to taste

Directions

Method:
1

Heat the oil over medium high flame in a 7 quart Dutch oven. Add the sliced onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook stirring until they start to get soft and transparent, about 2-3 minutes. Partially cover and turn the flame down to medium low. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are very soft, slightly caramelized and jammy looking, about 15-20 minutes.

2

Turn up the heat to medium high. Add garlic and cook stirring until that softens, about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaf, dates, chili pepper if using and 2 cups stock. Stir to mix. Cook uncovered for about 40 minutes adding more stock as the soup thickens until you’ve used it all up. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice. Adjust for salt and pepper. Let the soup sit 10 minutes off the heat while you prepare to serve. At this point the soup can be chilled and frozen.

3

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C or turn on the broiler. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl. Set aside. Lay out 6 oven-proof soup bowls on a sheet pan for easy handling. Set aside.

4

There are 2 methods of serving the soup. They’re both good so it’s really a matter of taste which you choose. Here they are:

  1. Lay a slice of grilled bread at the bottom of each individual bowl. Ladle the soup over it. Spoon the cheese over the top of the soup. Repeat. Place soups in the oven on a high shelf. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and is flecked with brown. Let sit a couple of minutes. Serve.
  2. Ladle the soup into individual oven-proof soup bowls. Lay the grilled bread on top and spoon cheese over bread to cover. Place soups under the broiler on a low rung. Broil until cheese is melted and is flecked with brown. Serve immediately.

Ann’s Tips

4 lbs is a lot of onions to slice, especially as they need to be thinly cut, but a mandoline set at 1/8th inch makes short work of them. The onions will lose some of their color as they cook, and when the soup is cold they can look a little grey, but never fear, their color warms up again as the soup heats through.

Carabaccia – Tuscan Onion Soup

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