French Onion Soup

Not a recipe from the South of France, but one that originated around Les Halles (the old food market) in Paris – providing warm nourishment to the traders that started work in the early hours of the morning… Do you remember Jacques Dutronc’s song ‘Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille’?  The quality of your soup entirely depends on the quality of your beef stock so make sure you either buy the best you can find or make it yourself (see my recipe). No stock cubes please! Serves 4.    

     1½ kg onions, peeled and thinly sliced
     4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
     2 tbsp butter
     1 tsp sugar
     2 cloves garlic, crushed
     1 litre of (preferably homemade) beef stock
     60 ml of dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
     2 bay leaves
     3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
     freshly ground black pepper
     1 good glug of cognac
     16 slices of baguette, 2 cm thick
     200g grated Comté or Swiss Gruyere

Start by ‘sweating’ the onions – i.e. cooking them gently in the olive oil in a thick-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, stirring often, until they have softened – about 20 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium high. Add the butter and a sprinkling of salt and sugar and cook, stirring often, until the onions are well caramelised, about 15 more minutes.
Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute more.
Now de-glaze the pot with vermouth (or white wine), loosening the browned umami bits on and sides at the bottom of the pan.
Add stock, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a gentle boil, cover the pot and lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for another 30 minutes.  Season to taste with more salt and add freshly ground black pepper. Discard the bay leaves and add the cognac.

While the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 210’C. Brush both sides of the baguette slices lightly with olive oil, transfer to a baking tray and toast in the oven until lightly browned.
Place 2 slices of toasted bread in the bottom of 4 oven-proof bowls, then ladle the soup over. Cover with the remaining toasts and generously sprinkle with the grated cheese.  Then place underneath a grill until the cheese bubbles and has slightly browned.

Alternatively, if you don’t have oven-proof bowls, sprinkle the baguettes with the grated cheese on the baking tray and place in the oven until they start to bubble and melt. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top with the toasted, cheesy slices.