:: How many recipes in your repertoire begin with, ‘…heat some oil in saucepan and add chopped onion…’?
Too many to count, I’m sure. So many dishes are reliant on the starting block of the humble brown onion, that to remove it from our modus operandi is almost as bad as skipping the seasoning entirely!
Although onions provide the flavour foundation for a immeasurable number of recipes, the French have gone so far as to create a dish that celebrates the onion in its own right. Served with a crowning glory of melted Gruyère toasties, the broth of this world famous soup comprises mostly of meltingly rich, slow-cooked caramelised onions.
It might have started out as a poor man’s dish, limited to a single vegetable ingredient that was cheap and easy to grow, but now it can be seen on menus of even the poshest French restaurant for its wonderful depth of flavour.
A few notes on this dish before starting…
I use both olive oil and butter to cook the onions, as butter develops a wonderful flavour in the caramelisation process but unfortunately is not so great in the cholesterol stakes.
Also, it is really essential that you source Gruyère as it is this Swiss cheese which imparts such a distinctive sweet, earthy flavour to the cheese toasties. If you can’t track it down then I would recommend substituting Emmental (another Swiss cheese) but I urge you to scour delis and gourmet shops first!
2kg onions, cut into roughly 6mm slices
50g butter, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cups good quality beef stock (try to use homemade if you can)
1 cup hot water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic
50g Gruyère cheese
50g Pecorino cheese
Melt butter with the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and the add onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until onions are translucent and soft.
Remove the lid, add the brown sugar and cook for about 30 minutes or until the onions are very soft and starting to caramelise. Begin to add the stock, about a cup at a time and simmer for 10 minutes in between additions, until the stock has almost evaporated. Season to taste and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for a further 30 minutes.
When ready to serve, slice a baguette into rounds and toast each side. Finely grate the cheeses and mix together. Rub the tops of the toast rounds with the clove of garlic, sprinkle over a generous helping of grated cheese and place under the griller until melted and bubbling.
Place three or four rounds of baguette toasties in each bowl and ladle over the hot onion soup. Serve immediately.