At this time of year when, despite the days getting a little longer, winter stills feels as if it has its grip on us, I feel a real need for traditional warming soups that soothe and heal us from the inside out. This is the traditional French soup that inspired traveller cooks. My mother had it first with my father in Paris soon after the war and it was a regular dish on our table. My parents had some very lovely soup bowls, handmade pottery by Bernard Leach, and the rich warm colours of the pottery glaze perfectly complemented the colours of the soup, gleaming from the little particles of fat suspended in the dark liquid. The rich beef broth nourishes and the onions are wonderful boosters of our immune systems.
French Onion Soup
1½ lbs (700 g) onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsps olive oil
2 oz (50 g) butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp brown sugar
2 pints (1.2 litres) good beef stock
½ pint (275 ml) dry white wine
2 tbsp Cognac (optional)
salt and black pepper
Baguette (preferably sourdough), cut into thickish diagonal slices
8 oz (225 g) Gruyère or Emmental grated
Melt the oil and butter together in a heavy saucepan over a high heat. When very hot, add the onions and garlic. Stir constantly until they start to colour which should take about 5 minutes or so. Add the sugar to help the caramelisation, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook very slowly for about 30 mins, stirring regularly until they are a rich dark brown. Turn the heat up again and add the white wine, allow to bubble up and reduce slightly, then add the stock, stirring to make sure all caramelised bits are released from the pan.
Once it reaches simmering point, reduce the heat as low as possible and leave it to cook gently, uncovered, for about an hour.
When you are ready to serve the soup, toast the bread, float the toast on the soup in a heat proof bowl, pile on the cheese an put under a hot grill until the cheese is bubbling and starting to colour.
Sadly my soup had to have gluten free bread rather than delicious sourdough – as I am gluten intolerant – and the bowl below didn’t have enough cheese, but it still tasted wonderful!