I LIKE TO IMAGINE the onion and I have a lot in common: multilayered, beloved the world over. Onions, famously, make you cry — the bulb’s natural defense against insects and other opportunistic munchers via a combination of pyruvic acid, ammonia and volatile sulfur compounds. (My own lashing-out tendencies are similarly defensive.)

Ultimately, though, when bathed in warmth and handled with patience, an onion yields into a sweet puddle of love. A big part of the allium’s charm lies in the way it lends itself so amicably to frying, sautéing, pickling and baking. There is little as bracing as a raw onion or as soothing as a braised one. And I believe there is no greater example of this ingredient’s capacity to comfort than French onion soup.

Worn down by winter and weltschmerz, I’ve hit the onion soup crock pretty hard this season. And it’s been easy to do: Chefs seem to have gotten the memo that we’re all hankering for comfort. I have, happily, come upon other dishes doing a sort of French-onion cosplay, carrying off that holy trinity — bread, cheese, onion — with great panache. French onion is the new black.

The classic iteration — what Americans know as French onion soup — is called gratinée des Halles in its country of origin. The name nods to the soup vendors of the storied Paris market Les Halles. Their crocks once fed famished workers coming off their shifts as well as all-night revelers in need of nourishment. One couldn’t ask for better ballast than the combination of beef or chicken broth fortified with onions and bread, capped with a layer of molten cheese — typically Comté, Gruyère or Emmental, gooey melters all, with varying degrees of pungency. It’s a recipe custom built for the restoration of the soul.

Find the recipe for this roasted cipollini torta below.


F. Martin Ramin / The Wall Street Journal

Anti-soupists will say that soup makes a monotonous meal. And yet, multilayered like the onion itself, French onion soup provides plenty of action: chewing, sipping, slurping. My personal favorite has always been the chipping away and eating of the browned cheese stuck to the side of the crock. Get it right and you enjoy the same tactile pleasure you do peeling off a price tag without a tear.

Outside the home, French onion soup is best eaten in an unreconstructed bistro. In Midtown Manhattan, at lunchtime on a blustery day, you’d do well to order a bowl at La Bonne Soupe. At midnight get over to L’Express, a night owl’s bistro on Park Avenue. Generally speaking, the soup itself doesn’t brook innovation, but it does reward excellence. The key is in the almost ludicrously slo-mo cooking of the onions until they are dark, sweet and nearly liquid.

For innovation, you need to stray a little way from the crock. At Mark’s Off Madison, the new Midtown restaurant from chef Mark Strausman, there’s an onion soup on the menu listed as Maria’s Onion Budino. In Italian, budino means pudding, and you’ll more commonly see it as a sweet. Chocolate budino is basically an Italian pot de crème. At Mark’s, Mr. Strausman uses the term loosely. “It’s a budino because of the bread!” he insisted. Tomato, tomahto. Who cares when the dish is this good? The bowl is as warming as a charcoal brazier and as comforting as any FOS I’ve had.

I have, happily, come upon other dishes doing a sort of French-onion cosplay, carrying off that holy trinity — bread, cheese, onion — with great panache.

The titular Maria, the Roman grandmother from whom Mr. Strausman obtained the recipe, saw this savory budino as a panacea. “There’s a saying in Italian, if you’re feeling sick: ‘Mangia in bianco.’ Eat white, ”the chef explained. “The secret to the budino is to not let the onions color.” Though the result is souplike, the construction of the budino is akin to a lasagna’s. Layers of stale bread, Gruyère, Parmesan and onion soup are baked to near dissolution. The deep flavors of the warming, salutary dish belie its simple ingredient list.

At Ci Siamo, a glittering Italian restaurant in the Manhattan West complex, chef Hillary Sterling is much more amenable to caramelization. She uses a hearth to coax sweetness from tiny cipollini onions, which she then tucks into a crust. She describes her onion torta as “just the top of French onion soup.” In Ms. Sterling’s version, a sort of fonduta made with heavy cream and pecorino Romano cheese is poured over the caramelized cipollini before broiling. The soup’s traditional day-old baguette gives way to a cleverly made pie crust in which finely ground pecorino substitutes for (most of) the sugar.

The worst of the onion prep here isn’t slicing, traditionally the tear-inducing part. With cipollini, it’s the peeling. I have, however, found that soaking the little onions in boiling water for a few minutes before beginning to peel does aid a bit in releasing them from their skins. And the upshot is glorious, glistening bulbs of umami flavor, tossed in butter and olive oil before spending a nice, long spell in the oven.

If the budino is a humble restorative, the torta is a celebratory pièce de résistance. Both deliver magnificently on the promise of the onion. It might make you cry at first, but ultimately it will make you swoon

To explore and search through all our recipes, check out the WSJ Recipes page.

F. Martin Ramin / The Wall Street Journal


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 medium white onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2¾ quarts chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 thick slices day-old peasant bread, including crust
  • 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent but not caramelized, about 8 minutes. Add stock, salt and pepper, and reduce heat to low. Cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the onions are melting into the broth, 40 minutes.
  3. Working carefully and in small batches, purée half the hot soup in a blender until smooth. Pour puréed soup back into the soup pot, mixing the blended and unblended portions together well. Taste the soup and season with salt and / or pepper as needed.
  4. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, lay out half the bread slices to cover the bottom in a single layer. Sprinkle with half the Gruyère cheese, then ladle on about half the onion soup, letting it soak into the bread. Lay remaining bread on top, sprinkle with remaining Gruyère, then cover with remaining onion soup. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven or place under a broiler until the top is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle budino into bowls and serve with more grated Parmigiano on the side.

Click here to view this recipe in our recipes section.

F. Martin Ramin / The Wall Street Journal


  1. Make the dough: Place all dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. With motor running on low speed, add cold cubed butter until mixture forms a ball.
  2. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. (The dough can also be made up to a month in advance and frozen until ready.)
  3. Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and set rack in center position. Lightly flour a work surface and place chilled dough on it. Use a rolling pin to roll dough into a round about 12 inches across and ⅛-inch thick.
  4. Transfer dough to a 9-inch pie dish and trim to fit. Prick dough all over with the tines of a fork. Line dough with parchment paper and fill with uncooked beans or pie weights. Blind-bake pie crust until golden, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
  5. Meanwhile, make the onion filling: Soak onions in boiling water for 2 minutes. Slice off roots and tips and slide off skin, transferring onions to a large bowl as you go. Season onions with salt. Let sit 15 minutes.
  6. In a large cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet over medium heat, melt butter and mix in olive oil. Add onions, toss to coat and turn off heat. Transfer skillet to center rack of oven. Roast onions, tossing occasionally, until deeply browned and tender, 1-1½ hours. Transfer roasted onions to a sheet tray to cool.
  7. Make the pecorino fonduta: In a saucepan over medium heat, simmer cream until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer cream to a blender (or leave in pot and use an immersion blender). Add cheese and salt to hot cream and purée until smooth.
  8. Assemble the tart: Fill cooled pie crust with roasted onions. Pour a thin layer of fonduta over the onions. Sprinkle with pecorino cheese. Place pie under broiler and broil until cheese is golden and crisp, 3-4 minutes.
  9. Garnish tart with freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of aged balsamic and thyme leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Click here to view this recipe in our recipes section.


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