Tips & Techniques

The Secret to This Genius Soup? Treat it Like Lasagna

March  1, 2017

If you love French onion soup, as I do, for the crouton—that magic of textures that happens when stale bread drinks up broth and cheese frizzles on top—then you’ve also probably wondered why you usually only get one in a bowl.

I get the value of restraint, of discipline and contrast. There is no good without evil; there is no crusty glory without a well of broth below. But another crouton or two isn’t going to hurt anybody, right?

No, absolutely not. And in this recipe, Jamie Oliver abandons any trace of deprivation, packing a Dutch oven with more many-textured pockets of molten bread and juicy broth and crags of gooey cheese than you could dream, if you dreamed in soup. Your crouton-loving heart will skip.

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How? With inspiration from mountainous northern Italy near Switzerland, he builds this hearty pot of soup like lasagna, layering cheese and greens and garlic-rubbed slices of toast, before dumping the flavorful broth over the top and pressing down on top to help it all soak up. When you bake it, the whole thing will crisp on top and poof up like a souffle, as the bread softens and swells. In a completely unnecessary move, he tops it with sizzling sage leaves in brown butter.

Oliver—the Naked Chef—has never been terribly reserved. In fact, when I first fell for this recipe, I was a grad student interning at the Martha Stewart Show, watching Oliver run to and fro on set, acting as his own hype man to keep the audience giddy during breaks in shooting.

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Top Comment:
“Anyhow, Ingenious French Onion Soup is on the winter menu this week. -M”
— Michael N.

The flavors he uses to build this soup are similarly wild and exuberant: the salty smoke of pancetta, strong cheeses, roughly torn needles of rosemary, and—here's the kicker: an entire tin of anchovies. Two, actually.

“What if you don’t like anchovies?” Stewart asked on the show. Oliver answered fast: “You’ll have to trust me, or do another recipe.” And he’s right—what makes this broth so irresistible in so little time is the salty, meaty grip that only a good 20 to 25 fillets of anchovy could give it. I tried a version with half the anchovy and it was fine, but not nearly as compelling. Trust him. Don’t do another recipe.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Chris Glenn
    Chris Glenn
  • Sarah P
    Sarah P
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
  • Olivia Bloom
    Olivia Bloom
  • Michael Newmark
    Michael Newmark
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Chris G. December 27, 2017
You could try reading "all the attached comments with this recipe!
Chris G. March 15, 2017
Hmm, I must say, any damage I've notice to the "King's English/President's English on this web page is pretty minor compared to what we see and hear every day on the Idiot Box...I.E. TV(Worst of all are the Commercials!)
nancy E. December 27, 2017
What does this have to do with anything?
Betty December 28, 2017
This comment was presumably in response to a comment further down which mentions that the word 'genius' is actually a noun. However, 'genius' as an adjective is listed on The definition is 'very clever or ingenious.'
Sarah P. March 6, 2017
Is there a suggestion for those pescatarians among us who do not eat bacon? This recipe looks AMAZING, but I fear leaving out that smoky, saltiness will be problematic!
Kristen M. March 6, 2017
There's so much great flavor in this soup, I actually don't think you'll miss it (I did a pretty bare bones riff recently and didn't), but if you wanted to add a little smoked paprika, it would probably fit in nicely.
Sarah P. March 6, 2017
Thanks a great idea, Kristen! I will try smoked paprika or maybe even a dash of liquid smoke.
Alexandra S. March 1, 2017
Heaven in a bowl—can't wait to try it!
Kristen M. March 4, 2017
You might have some high-quality stale bread around sometimes, right? :)
Alexandra S. March 5, 2017
:) :) :)
Olivia B. March 1, 2017
Whoa, this is a must try.
Kristen M. March 4, 2017
Michael N. March 1, 2017
I really want to try this recipe! But I have to nitpick a bit: "Genius" is technically a noun, not an adjective, though it's often been used that way. The closest adjective would be "ingenious", I suppose, but it's not a 1:1 correlation. Anyhow, Ingenious French Onion Soup is on the winter menu this week. -M
Kristen M. March 4, 2017
Michael, thank you for pointing this out in such a generous and thoughtful way—not always easy with a grammar correction. It seems that informally, using genius as an adjective has crept into the English language and in writing the series Genius Recipes (which is never terribly formal), I'm doing my part to hasten it. See the informal usage here:
middleT March 6, 2017
Thank you, Michael. It has always bothered me to see this usage -- especially when paired with wonderful recipes as Kristen does so well.