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French Onion Soup, Soupe A L’Oignon Gratinée

"This soup can be delicious. The bread MUST be hard to start with (I hate the sodden bread and tacky cheese that are so often encountered with it). Lay fairly thick slices of French bread, one for each person, in a baking tin and bake for ½ hour in a very low oven until they are thoroughly dried out and very lightly browned. You can rub them first on both sides with a cut clove of garlic.

If I am serving this soup as the main dish of a family supper –it is quite filling enough for that – I usually make my own beef stock from shin of beef*.

If you can lace the soup with brandy- do! Use at least 4 tbsp, warmed and set aflame before you add them. This soup, with the brandy but without the bread and cheese, makes a wonderful stirrup cup for departing guests on a cold night.

It can, of course, be made more quickly, but the long slow cooking brings out the sweet, rich flavour of the onions." – Sandra Davies.

1 ½ lb/680g onions
1 ½ oz/45g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small tsp sugar, salt and pepper
1 ½ oz/45g plain flour
3 ½ pints/2 litres good beef stock
¼ pint/145 ml dry white wine, dry vermouth or cider
2 tbsp grated raw onion
1 or 2 rounds bread for each person
5 oz/145g grated cheese – Gruyere for choice
1 tbsp melted butter

Slice the onions very thinly.

Heat the butter and oil together in a large heavy pan. Put in the onions; stir them around until they are all glistening with butter and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Take off the lid, sprinkle in the sugar, salt and pepper to taste, stir well. By now the onions should be rich, golden brown colour.

Blend in the flour and cook, stirring for a few minutes (important to cook out the “flour” taste as this is for thickening purposes not flavour).

Add the hot stock.  Stir in the wine/vermouth/cider. Simmer with the lid half on for 45 minutes to an hour longer, and then check if the soup needs more salt and pepper.

Pour the boiling soup into a large warmed tureen. Stir in the grated onion and float the bread slices on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, and then sprinkle the cheese with the melted butter. Put in a very moderate oven for 10 minutes (180°C), and then brown the top for a minute or two under a hot grill.

If you do not have a large tureen or big enough oven to grill with one you can grill the bread and cheese separately then add on top of each individual soup. Or use soup bowls that are oven proof and grill with those.

Serve at once.

Serves 8

*Beef Stock Recipe –

1.5 kg veal or beef bones, chopped
1 onion, unpeeled, quartered
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 bouquet garni – thyme sprigs, bay leaf, parsley stalks-tied together with kitchen string
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 black peppercorns

Oven 220°C – place bones in roasting pan and roast 30 minutes, add vegetables and roast another 30 minutes. Transfer to stockpot, reserving pan for which you will add ½ cup water and cook medium heat to scrape off the cooked pieces – transfer this to stockpot. Add remaining ingredients and 3 litres water- bring to boil, and then turn heat down to lowest simmer, skimming frequently – for up to 8 hours. Top up water as needed.

Strain, discarding solids. Cool and refrigerate.

Makes 2.25 litres.

Tips for making stock–
•    Using a simmer mat is ideal for long, slow simmering as for making stock
•    If stock is boiled it will go cloudy, which is why slow simmering is the method used here
•    Never salt a stock during cooking as levels of salt vary for each dish it can be added to
•    Skim as often as possible to avoid a cloudy result
•    To remove fat from the stock – once refrigerated it will solidify and can be removed off the top.
•    Cool stock quickly, and bring back to boil when using to avoid bacterial development