French-Onion-Style White Bean Soup


This soup goes back, as Gwyneth Paltrow writes in My Father's Daughter, to a French restaurant called La Serre in Los Angeles where she used to eat with her father. "I've always loved the idea of French onion soup," Gwyneth says, "without actually liking the soup itself." She cooks the onions slowly with fennel and lots of garlic, makes the soup with vegetable stock and sets the filled bowls under the broiler topped with a slice of toasted bread and a generous handful of grated cheese. Slideshow:  More Fantastic Soups 

French-Onion-Style White Bean Soup
Photo: © Jody Horton
Active Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 30 mins


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling

  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced

  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

  • Two 14-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 quart vegetable stock or broth

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Six 3/4-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread

  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the fennel, onion and garlic, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the fennel and onion are lightly browned, about 15 minutes longer.

  2. Add the crushed red pepper and oregano and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over moderately low heat until the stock is slightly reduced and the soup is chunky, about 30 minutes. Spoon the soup into six 1-cup ramekins and set them on a sturdy baking sheet.

  3. Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. Brush the bread with oil and cut into rounds that fit neatly into the ramekins. Transfer the bread to another baking sheet and broil, turning once, until lightly toasted. Set the toasts over the soup in the ramekins and sprinkle with the cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and golden, about 1 minute. Drizzle with oil and serve right away.

Make Ahead

The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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