100. Molten Cheese & Onion Soup
I can't tell you how much I love French Onion Soup for so much more than just it's incredible flavour. I am an autumn girl, being a bit of a chubby couch potato the shortening of days equates to more time available for eating colcannon with a spoon in front of the telly. Not just that though, I've a tendency towards melancholy and love the romance of the changing seasons. My sister and I used to go to Paris every autumn and I would always order the same thing in one of our regular haunts, a classic dark wooden, dimly lit bistro with red and white paper cloths at the end of Rue St Andre des Arts in St Germain. We would not only meticulously plan our feeding venues, but also exactly what we would order in each one, and here, for me it would be the soup, then confit duck with stingingly garlicky dauphinoise, and tart tatin. Doesn't come more heart-stoppingly French than that!
We had this soup for supper last night in front of an episode of The Queens Gambit. Cutting the croutons bite-size means you just need a spoon and is therefore exceedingly sofa friendly. Eating it made my heart smile.
Enough for 4 as a main course:
1200g regular brown onions
4 cloves garlic, crushed
50ml olive oil
1tsp soft brown sugar
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
350ml good dry white wine
1 litre beef stock, get the best you can, I used M&S pouches!!!
4 thick slices of rustic bread cut into 1-2cm cubes
250g gruyere, grated
Set about peeling and slicing the onions. This is the only real prep required so enjoy it; have the radio on, maybe The Archers Omnibus, and a glass of wine to hand. Luckily as a contact lens wearer my eyes are protected from too much sting and I can happily chop away unaffected by tears. Peel and cut the onions in half top to bottom, then slice them all fairly thinly into half moons.
Heat the oil and butter in a medium size high-sided casserole till sizzling then add the onions, garlic and sugar and cook on a high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring only occasionally, until the onions have caught and burnt a bit around their edges and taken on quite a bit of colour. Add the thyme leaves, reduce the heat as low as you can and leave the onions for at least an hour to very slowly cook down. Stir now and again but pretty much leave them to do their own thing. When you have a mass of glorious smelling golden, buttery mush you can add the wine.
Turn up the heat and once the wine has come to the boil add the stock and some salt and pepper and stir in all the lovely sticky bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once it has come to the boil again, stir in the marmite, turn the heat to low and leave to simmer for another hour, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
Meanwhile heat the oven to 190 fan, toss the bread with a splash of olive oil and salt, spread onto a roasting tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until properly crisp and dry (you want them nice and crispy so they don't disintegrate in the soup), then set the croutons aside and turn your grill on to medium-high.
Scatter the croutons all over the surface of the soup then cover with the cheese and place the casserole under the hot grill for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is golden and oozy.
Ladle into warm bowls and dig in.
Note: If you have heat proof individual serving bowls then you can use those under the grill instead, although you may need to sit at the table to eat to avoid burning yourself! The soup keeps well and probably improves with a couple of days in the fridge.