One of our favorite neighborhood restaurants used to be Beppe, where Chef Cesare Casella had created a menu bursting with the big sunny flavors of his native Tuscany. He made a mean lemony fried chicken, succulent spareribs in tomato sauce, and French fries fried with fresh herbs. But I was particularly partial to his onion soup with a poached egg on top. My version is much simpler, but very satisfying nonetheless. If you can’t find pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon) in your local market, you can substitute regular old American bacon. The key is to cook the onions slow and low.
Makes 4 servings
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Total preparation time: 1 1/4 hours
1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 cup red wine
Three 14- or 14 1/2-ounce cans (about 5 1/4 cups) low-sodium beef broth
Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
4 large eggs
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons cognac, optional
1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper
Eight 1/2-inch thick slices Italian bread, toasted
Cook the pancetta in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp, about 12 minutes, transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon.
Melt the butter in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook, stirring frequently, about 30 minutes or until the onions are golden brown. Add the wine and boil until it is reduced by half. Add the broth and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.
Meanwhile, to poach the eggs, bring a mixture of 1 quart water, the vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt to a bare simmer. Working with one egg at a time, crack egg into a small bowl and drop it into the simmering water. Cook gently until the egg is set, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift egg to a plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.
To serve, stir the cognac into the soup, if using, and ladle into four soup plates. Top each serving with a poached egg, some of the pancetta and cheese, and pepper to taste. Serve with toasted bread.