Sunday, 13 October 2013

Soup Sunday: French onion soup

Nearly all my cooking operations start with chopping some onion. I love onions and couldn't imagine life with someone who didn't. And trust me, they're out there. And there are a lot of them. I still remember the epiphanies about the future we'd never have I've had on first dates after listening the date declare (with the unwavering resolve of a 3-year-old) how "onions I won't eat!"

Onion is the undisputable foundation of just about all the dishes I can think of; the bedrock of flavours all over the world. This week's Soup Sunday promotes this humble footman and makes him the star of the show: French onion soup doesn't really  - especially at its most purist - consist of much else. Though when yours truly is let loose among their centuries-old revered gastronomic traditions, things get shaken up a bit. Like with the addition of bacon (I hear you: when has adding bacon made anything worse?!).

By omitting bacon and using strong vegetable stock this becomes suitable for vegetarians, kosher- and halal-readers too. Thanks to the caramelization of onions the flavour will still be rich and comforting. I still feel compelled to share the results of a survey I read a couple of years back. The survey was about former vegetarians and the reasons why they fell of the vegetarian wagon. #1 answer? You know it: bacon! Some of the stock could be substituted with some wine woo, in which case you need to cook it longer after adding stock, another 20-30 minutes at least.

First I caramelized the onions the way I did with that galette. This gives onions a lovely deep colour and a toasty, rich flavour. You could roast the garlic too (wrap the bulb in foil, roast in 200 for about an hour and squeeze out the lovely toasty paste), but they soften and sweeten stewing with the onions anyway. 

Traditionally the soup is served topped with a piece of bread covered with grated cheese that is then grilled in the oven until it melts and bubbles. Alternative method is just serving the soup topped with cheese-covered croutons. Gruy√®re is ideal for this. 

As a main this feeds 2-3, as a smaller starter four

5 rashers of bacon (about 100 g)
7 onions (about 750 g)
4-6 garlic cloves (depending on their size and the Frenchness of your palate)
5 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
5 allspice peppers
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamico
7 dl strong stock
1 generous tbsp Cognac
salt, pepper

To serve:

Bread, butter, mustard, cheese

Cut the onions in half and then slice into thin slices. Finely chop garlic. Chop the bacon and brown until crisp. Lift the bacon out but leave some of the bacon fat in the pot. Add a little water (or wine) to dissolve any bits stuck in the bottom. Then add butter and oil and then pour in onions and garlic. It might seem like a lot, but trust me, they'll sweat down to fraction of that. Add sugar too as it helps the caramelization process and balsamico. Stir the mixture a bit, making sure everything is covered in everything and add thyme, bay leaf and allspice. Lower the heat and let the onions cook until very soft, sweet and brown - up to 30-40 minutes. Occasionally check that there's still enough liquid and the onions haven't burnt - add a little more oil if needed (the juices from the onions should be enough though).

Remove the lid for the last 4 minutes or so. Remove bay leaf and thyme and add Cognac and stock. If you like yours thicker, add 1 tbsp flour into the onions and keep cooking for 5 minutes before adding the stock. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Check the taste and season as needed. Divide into serving bowls and sprinkle the bacon bits on top (if using) along with some fresh thyme. Spread a little bit of butter and mustard on the bread and place on top of the soup (ideally the bread would cover the soup in a lid. like fashion) and sprinkle the cheese on top. Place under the grill until the cheese has melted.




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