Dig into some French Onion Soup

Don’t cry: Try put­ting onions in the freez­er for 15 minutes be­fore you cut them to pre­vent you­self from cry­ing.

“Let’s go to Pitt­s­burgh,” I said, when the pos­sib­il­ity of a long week­end trip came up a few weeks ago. Why not? Hav­ing traveled some miles over the years, Pitt­s­burgh was one re­l­at­ively close des­tin­a­tion we’d talked about but nev­er vis­ited.

I’d come to think of Pitt­s­burgh as the “little sis­ter” of Phil­adelphia — sort of like a second city. Pitt­s­burgh was not at all what I’d ex­pec­ted. Move over Philly! In­stead of “the Pitts,” it was def­in­itely, and de­li­ciously, a “bowl of cher­ries.” Was I sur­prised to find a clean, pretty, safe, en­er­gized, ec­lect­ic, friendly town, chock full of good food and good beer. 

Evid­ently, churches have also closed in Pitt­s­burgh. So, upon en­ter­ing a Pitt­s­burgh brew­ery/res­taur­ant housed in a former church, my thoughts ten­ded to the sac­ri­le­gious. But Holy Smokes! How could you go wrong with a Pi­ous Monk Dunkel, a Pipe Or­gan Pale Ale or Ce­les­ti­al Gold in your glass? Talk about holy wa­ter! Of course, the Trap­pist Monks have brewed great beer for cen­tur­ies. Co­in­cid­ent­ally, earli­er this year, the monks at St. Joseph’s Ab­bey in Spen­cer, Mas­sachu­setts, be­came the first out­side Europe to make cer­ti­fied Trap­pist Ale, to sup­port them­selves and their char­it­ies. Hmm…Could some of Phil­adelphia’s beau­ti­ful, closed churches gain new life as brew­er­ies?

Pitt­s­burgh still has its Iron City beer, brewed for over 150 years. Iron City is sold at PNC Park. We did take in a game that week­end since the Phil­lies were in town. Al­though it’s not ne­ces­sary to share the fi­nal score, the view at the park over­look­ing the rivers made the af­ter­noon worth­while. No fear wear­ing our Red, as the Pir­ates’ crowd was very con­geni­al.

Pitt­s­burgh is home to piero­gies, huge sand­wiches and french fries on everything, in­clud­ing atop salads and in between sand­wiches. (Just won­der­ing if Pitt­s­burgh-headquartered Heinz had any­thing to do with this?) And then there was the Onion Soup. Al­ways a per­son­al fa­vor­ite, French Onion Soup seemed a stand­ard item on menus in Pitt­s­burgh. 

With in­con­sist­ent sum­mer tem­per­at­ures some­times bor­der­ing on au­tumn weath­er, I’m crav­ing soup. By us­ing ready-made stock and by top­ping the soup with quickly made cheesy baguette slices, the soup can be put to­geth­er eas­ily. Who needs Par­is or Pitt­s­burgh to make great French Onion soup? Just fol­low the dir­ec­tions be­low.


4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced

(Cut onions in half length­wise; then cut cross­wise in­to thin slices.)

2 Tb­sp. can­ola oil

3 Tb­sp. but­ter

1 tsp. sug­ar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 clove gar­lic, minced

8 cups of beef stock (or chick­en stock)

1 cup dry white wine

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, or ½ tsp. dried

Salt and pep­per to taste

Cheese Top­pers:

8 half-inch thick slices cut from a crusty baguette

1 cup grated Gruy­ere, Swiss, Moz­zarella, Fontina, Parmes­an or Pro­volone (I used some leftover Swiss and Fontina mixed)

- In a large sauce­pan, heat to­geth­er oil and but­ter.

- Add onions. Stir to coat well in oil and but­ter. Saut&ea­cute; on me­di­um heat for a few minutes un­til the onions soften and just start to brown, but are not burned.

- Re­duce heat to me­di­um low. Add sug­ar, salt and stir.

- Al­low onions to cook for about 20-25 minutes to brown and car­a­mel­ize. Stir oc­ca­sion­ally.

- Add gar­lic and saut&ea­cute; for a minute or two.

- Stir in stock, wine, bay leaf and thyme.

- Sim­mer, par­tially covered, 20 to 30 minutes un­til the fla­vors are blen­ded. Dis­card bay leaf.

- Sea­son to taste with salt and pep­per.

Cheese Top­pers:

- Turn on Broil­er. Place shelf about 6 inches from heat.

- Ar­range bread slices on a foil-lined bak­ing sheet.

- Di­vide cheese evenly among the slices.

- Broil slices un­til the cheese is melted and just turn­ing brown – 1 to 2 minutes.      

- Ladle soup in­to bowls and top with cheese top­per(s).

Stand­ing and ob­serving things in the middle of Pitt­s­burgh coaxed pleas­ant memor­ies of read­ing Richard Scarry’s Busytown to my sons many years ago. With the fu­nicu­lars climb­ing, the trains chug­ging, the light rail run­ning and the yel­low bridges in a row span­ning the three rivers as the boats, barges and kayakers glided along -  it was sens­ory over­load, but in a happy, good way.    

Pitt­s­burgh is a city of neigh­bor­hoods and good onion soup, and is strong on the nice factor. This “little sis­ter” turned out to be quite the lady – very grown up, and a pleas­ant sur­prise.

Eat well, live long, en­joy!

(Ques­tions or tips can be sent to Donna Zit­ter Bor­de­lon at Whats­cook­in­NEPhilly@gmail.com or in care of the North­east Times, 3412 Pro­gress Drive, Suite C, Ben­s­alem, PA 19020)

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