On Sunday I made French onion soup, which I’ve been hankering after for a few weeks now, and I must say it was rather delicious. In the past I’ve used a Delia Smith recipe but this time I wanted to try out a fabulous book of Mr T’s called The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkins and Lindsey Bareham. Leafing through this book, complete with evocative pictures, I float nostalgically through my childhood fed on spag bol and cauliflower cheese, when going out for dinner meant prawn cocktail, steak and chips, and black forest gateaux! Ahhh, them were the days. The main difference between the two recipes, apart from slight variances in quantities, is that Delia adds half a teaspoon of sugar to the onions to help them caramalise, something that the prawn cocktail duo regard as the action of ‘cowboys’. Well, Delia, that’s you told!
I very thinly slice 2kg of brown onions in front of the telly in the sitting room, because that’s where the heater is, and then start to gently cook them in my favourite Le Creuset casserole in 75g of butter. Once they’ve sweated for 15 minutes on a very low heat with the lid on, the instruction is to take the lid off, turn the heat up slightly and continue to cook them for 45 minutes, stirring regularly, until they are golden brown and sweetly caramelised. Perhaps ambitiously, I Skype my brother and two-year-old nephew while all this is going on, so have to excuse myself every five minutes to ‘go and stir my onions’. Fortunately they are very understanding, especially little Fraser who is already a keen cook with his plastic kitchen set and wooden groceries.
I’ve just started the roux to thicken the soup (Delia doesn’t do that in her recipe – maybe she thinks that’s just for cowboys!) when I get a call from Mr T who has a puncture in one of his bicycle tyres and needs rescuing from Pyrmont. Far be it from me to deny a husband in distress so I turn off all the burners and go… Half an hour later I’m back to my soup. Whisking two ladles-full of hot beef stock (I use shop-bought from a carton) into my roux (25g butter, one tablespoon flour) it quickly forms a lovely silky, thick consistency and I whisk it back into the remainder of the litre and a half of stock. 150ml of dry white wine goes into the onions and is left to reduce and evaporate, perfuming the kitchen with delicious smells. I get the urge to pour a glass for myself which surprises me after a couple too many the night before! The thickened hot stock then goes into the onions, is brought to the boil and simmers for 15 minutes. Checking the seasoning I add a few ground of black pepper but no salt, and omit the suggested three tablespoons of cognac in case it’s a bit too much for Mr T’s alcohol-averse palate.
Now, the recipe demands that the croûtes are made by baking or grilling 16 slices of day-old baguette drizzled in melted butter and sprinkled liberally with grated Gruyère cheese, then allowing them to cool before being paved atop the soup in its pot, covered in yet more cheese, and once again melted and blistered under the grill. I decide this is more work than is truly necessary, and I intend to freeze most of the soup (or so I think), so I lightly toast two slices of white sourdough, rub both surfaces with raw garlic, grate on Gruyère and pop them under the grill for a couple of minutes – voilà, croûtes pour deux! I ladle the soup into hot bowls, float the croûtes on top and we tuck in in front of the box. It’s so good, so hearty and rich and sweet, that we can’t resist another spoonful with another hastily assembled croûte on top. So much for filling up the freezer!
(Sadly, in my food-induced bliss I completely forget to take a photo.)
Update 11 June 2012
I have just eaten the last of the onion soup from the freezer and this time I remembered to take a photo before I tucked in!