The any-season soup
I was never a big fan of onions growing up but at some point I began to really enjoy French Onion Soup. Perhaps it’s because of the sweetness of the caramelised onions or maybe it’s because of the huge amounts of bread and cheese involved! Either way, I now think of it as the perfect soup for almost any season; a warming starter for a large winter dinner or the perfect refreshing dish for a long summer evening.
Unlike many of our other recipes, I can’t really claim that this one is easy. Caramelising onions is a long and delicate process that requires your attention for around 1 hour. Recipe books often add it as a throwaway instruction, as though it only takes a few minutes, but for a really good result you’ll need to put in the effort. On the plus side, when you taste your perfectly seasoned soup you’ll feel like a real professional chef.
This recipe is useful for using up a glut of onions and cheese but also baguettes which are going stale, as the bread soaks in the soup for a long time.
French Onion Soup
1kg yellow onions, sliced into half crescents
3 tbsp butter (unsalted)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
8 cups vegetable broth
6 to 8 baguette rounds
350g cheese, grated
Black pepper to taste
1. Bring a large saucepan or Dutch oven to a medium heat and melt together the butter and oil.
2. Add the onions and stir well. Bring the pan down to a low heat and gently fry with a lid on for 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are softening.
3. Remove your cover and add salt, sugar and a little cracked pepper.
4. The hard work begins – Bring the pan back to a medium heat and cook for 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes. You want to caramelise your onions without burning them so keep an eye on the heat and lower it if things begin to scorch.
5. In a separate pan, bring your broth up to temperature.
At this point some cooks like to stir in a palmful of flour to the onions to coat them and thicken the soup. I prefer mine without but this is up to your taste.
6. Add the broth to your onion pan and simmer for one hour at a low heat. At this stage, you could also transfer your soup to a slow-cooker to simmer for 4 hours at a medium to high setting.
7. About 45 minutes before you wish to eat, pre-heat your oven to 180C.
8. Dish your soup out into deep soup bowls and top each one with a baguette round. Cover with a thick layer of grated cheese.
9. Sit the bowls on a deep baking tray and cook for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. At this stage, you can switch your oven to grill and cook for a further 5 minutes so the cheese begins to turn golden brown.
10. Remove from the oven (the bowls will be extremely hot!) and leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving. I like to serve with a large salad as a fresh and refreshing counterpoint.