‘La Ola Fresca’ is open again. This month, we offer as your nutritional weapon against flus and this dreaded virus a ‘French Onion Soup’. An old favourite of mine and one that you can easily make in your homes.
French Onion Soup always reminds me of the flea market in ‘Porte de Clignancourt’ of Paris where I worked as an ‘aupair’ in the 1980s. My favourite Sunday hangout was ‘Chez Louisette’, which opened in the 1930s. Here, amongst the French café kitsch, we would tuck into huge comforting bowls of French Onion Soup while the resident house band played Edith Piaf. These days, with restrictions on travel, we can at least let memories and good cuisine be our escape!
Some people may have had bad experiences with onions but I think this is often because they haven’t been cooked properly before they have been added to a sauce or dish and leave that sort of pungent, sweaty sock taste. Nothing worse than that! No danger of that with this recipe, which requires that you cook the onions thoroughly to a high temperature at the start and then for one hour. I am such believer in the power of onions; I even at present have a cut one under my bed, to ward off any pathogens in the air. Strangely it doesn’t seem to smell or to have gone off, which must be some proof of its antioxidant properties.
For love them or hate them, onions are a low calorie package of essential vitamins and minerals including selenium, zinc, potassium and vitamins C and B. More importantly they are one of the best sources of quercetin, a potent flavonoid and antioxidant that has antiviral properties as well as histamine regulating effects. Some years ago, a little old man came to ‘La Ola Fresca’ selling pamphlets & posters of the benefits of vegetables and fruits for very little money. It turned out he had also written this gem of a book featured in the photo, which he gave to me. So, we’ll dedicate this recipe to him and hope he is keeping well in these times.
French Onion Soup
700g onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Knob of butter optional
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 pints of beef stock or (for vegetarians) use vegetable stock seasoned with a large dollop of marmite paste.
1 teaspoon panela sugar
275ml dry white wine
1 laurel leaf
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
A pinch of thyme
For the croutons
Baguette cut into 2.5 cm diagonal slices
1-2 garlic cloves crushed
225g Gruyere cheese grated finely
Flat leaf parsley to decorate
First, make the croutons. You can do this either in the oven on a baking sheet or in a large frying pan. In both cases, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic followed by the slices of bread. Turn once or twice so they do not burn, till crispy and crunch on both sides.
Next, in a heavy based casserole or saucepan, heat more olive oil. Traditionally, you would add a knob of butter to this. When it is very hot add the sliced onions, followed by the garlic and finally the sugar. Keep turning the onions on the high heat, until the edges have turned dark. About 6 minutes. Reduce to a low heat and continue cooking very slowly for about 30 minutes. Scraped the caramelized film off the bottom and stir well. Turn up the heat and add your wine. When the alcohol has burnt off a bit, add your hot stock and your laurel. Turn down the heat and leave to simmer for about an hour.
During this time, grate your cheese finely. That way it will be easier to melt down into your hot soup. Warm your soup bowls and then ladle the soup into them. Place the croutons on the top and sprinkle with the cheese. If you have a suitable grill put it on a high setting and place the whole lot under the grill, decorate with the parsley and serve.
Put Edith Piaf on your stereo, inhale that gorgeous meltdown of golden brown cheese and the flavours of the soup and take time out with a little journey to Paris…