The Flavorful Vegetable Ina Garten Adds To French Onion Soup

Ordering a freshly made bowl of French onion soup at your favorite restaurant can warm you to the bones. The depth of flavor, the smooth spice, and the perfect melted cheese on top can make this your must-have choice. When creating that same soup at home, you may find a good French onion recipe seems very simple. The main ingredient is the onion of your choice, and then depending on the recipe you follow, white wine, beef broth, a bit of fresh thyme, and a good cheese, like Gruyere, can be added.

Ina Garten, noted for her proper cooking methods that pay homage to tradition, offers an exceptional French onion soup recipe noted for a few special additions, including good dry sherry and Cognac or brandy. She also uses Spanish onions, about three pounds of them. This, along with quality beef broth, some bay leaves, and just the right amount of Sauvignon Blanc, her choice for white wine, creates a savory, deeply flavored soup. It sounds fantastic, but she adds another ingredient that changes the game.

Fennel adds more of a sweet flavor when cooked

Fennel is an added ingredient to Garten's recipe from her cookbook, "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?" She adds two pounds of fennel, with the cores and tops removed, to the recipe, slicing it the same size as the Spanish onions. The fennel is added after the boil, and the butter is warmed. Then, she lets them cook down with the onions for 30 to 40 minutes on medium heat. Choosing fresh fennel that's perfectly ripe could help brighten the flavor even more so.

Why add fennel to the dish? It has a mild anise or licorice flavor, creating a different, subtle sweetness when cooked, and complements the onion well. Surprisingly, Fennel isn't a type of onion but is more closely related to carrots. It works because its flavor doesn't fight against the onion but adds a more pronounced sweetness. Also, when sliced and cooked over a longer period, it has a much milder flavor than adding fennel seed to recipes — so don't confuse the two flavor profiles here. To top your bowl, you can also use the fronds as a garnish if you like.