Italian red onion soup is rich in flavor from the full-bodied wine and tomatoes that bring out the best of the onions. This Italian version of onion soup has become my favorite way to make this classic dish.
If French onion soup is on a menu John or I are sure to order it. We really love it! Onions, cooked slowly with beef stock and then topped with bread and cheese! What is there not to like? Then, one evening we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and they served Italian onion soup. It was different from the French version, but it was delicious, and I had to have the recipe.
Where did Italian onion soup come from?
I did a little research on this fantastic dish and learned that it is known as Carabaccia. It originated in Tuscany going back at least to the 15th century. Carabaccia was made with red onions which are native to Tuscany. It had a sweet and sour flavor and used almonds as a thickener. A piece of bread would be placed in the bottom of the bowl and the soup would be poured over it and then topped with cheese. Sound familiar?
Apparently, Catherine d’ Medici brought the recipe to France with her from Tuscany when she married King Henry II. It is said that this was one of Leonardo DaVinci’s favorite dishes. Over the years changes were made to the original recipe. Some modern takes on this soup include the addition of a poached egg and the omission of the almonds as a thickener.
My version is a little different and closer to some of the more modern takes on the recipe. It does not have the sweet and sour flavor that was typical of Carabaccia and I omitted the almonds altogether.
Red onions are still the main ingredient. I also use a nice rich red wine and some tomato sauce to compliment the flavor of the onions. I also like the addition of beef stock, where the original recipe might have used a vegetable stock. Garlic and thyme, also add to the robust flavors of this soup.
Tips for making Italian Onion Soup
- The onions are the star ingredient in this recipe, so they need to be cooked carefully to get the best flavor out of them. The onions, garlic and sugar should be added to a pan with hot oil and cooked down until they are soft and caramelized. To do this you will need to set the heat on your stove low and allow the onions to cook slowly so that they do not burn. You will need to be patient; it may take 20 minutes or more for the onions to soften.
- When you add the wine bring the soup to a boil and then lower the heat a bit and let it cook until the wine is reduced by half. This will heighten the flavor of the wine.
- It is best to whisk the tomato sauce and the flour together before you add it to the soup. Make sure that you do not have any lumps of flour in the sauce before you add it.
- Once all the remaining ingredients have been added, let the soup cook on low heat for 1 hour. The slow cooking process creates a rich robust soup that is worth the wait!
There is a difference. French onion soup is always made with white onions and beef stock. Onion soup can be made with a variety of onions and may use vegetable, chicken, or beef stock.
It is traditional to top the soup with toasted bread and it can be topped with grated or shredded cheese such as parmesan or fontina. Some recipes will also top the soup with a poached egg.
There are definitely some health benefits in onion soup. Onions are a good source of probiotics and therefore help maintain digestive health and improve your immune system. They are also a good source of Quercetin, which is an excellent anti-inflammatory.
Onion soup can be served as a first course or a main course. As a first course it pairs well with many chicken, steak, or pork dishes. It is also a wonderful companion to a green salad such as Caesar, garden, spinach, or any crunchy leafy blend.
Here are some desserts that would be the perfect finish to a dinner of Italian Onion Soup:
Italian Red Onion Soup (Carabaccia)
- 8 Tbsp Butter
- 6 cups Red Onions sliced or chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 ¼ cups Red Wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon
- 8 cups Beef Stock
- 1/3 cup Flour
- 1 cup Tomato Sauce
- 2 tsp Salt
- ¼ tsp Pepper
- 1 tsp Thyme
- Melt the butter, add onions, garlic, and sugar. Sauté cooking slowly until the onions are very soft about 20 minutes. Be carful not to allow the onions to burn.
- Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half.
- Wisk together the tomato sauce and flour making sure there are no lumps of flour in the mixture.
- Add the tomato sauce mixture, thyme, and stock to the onions. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- Serve with toasted Italian bread, shredded fontina, or grated parmesan cheese.