It seems like Spring has started, finally, but nights are still chilly. May I suggest French onion soup? I recently had one at Brasserie Zedel, an enormous gorgeous French-style brasserie near Piccadilly Circus where I managed to have a tasty three course meal for £10.50p. The Maitre d’ didn’t want to let me in for some reason “you can go upstairs and have a cake” he sniffed dismissively, but it was bitterly cold outside and I needed French onion soup dammit. I gazed upon an almost empty restaurant, with a live piano player tinkling in the background reading music from an iPad. “May I see the menu?” I asked him. Reluctantly, from underneath his desk, he pulled out a large sheet of card, all in French. I then proceeded to trill, airily, in fluent French, about what I felt like eating, snapped the menu shut and confronted him with a steely-toned arch-eyebrowed“So you won’t allow me to eat here?”
He smiled tightly through gritted teeth and said “Of course Madam, but I’ll need the table back by 6″.
It was 4.30pm.
Maybe he was tired. The rest of the waiting staff were lovely. They gave me an English menu. I think the French one is kept at the front to put people off. So almost a decade living in France and consecutively shagging approximately four French boyfriends over a number of years were well worth it after all.
At home, my Riverford Organic box delivery had left me with a full basket of onions, built up week by week. Once I’d fished out and chucked all the soft ones at the bottom, plenty remained.
Do not listen to those that suggest French onion soup only authentic with a beef stock. That is complete couilles. A spoonful of Marmite, (appropriately the word ‘marmite’ in French, means a pot-bellied casserole dish) plenty of white wine and softly cooked good quality onions is all that you need. In fact it’s so rich that it’s an entire meal in a bowl: soup, bread, cheese.
Enough for 6-8
1.5 kilos of good brown onions, sliced thinly, into rounds or half rounds
Olive oil to cover the bottom of your pot
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tablespoon of Marmite
3 fresh bay leaves
1 bottle white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock
1 loaf of French baguette or French pain de campagne or sourdough bread
300g of Cheddar, Gruyere or Emmental cheese, grated
1 tablespoon of freshly ground pepper or a sprinkle of pickled green peppercorns
Simmer the onions until soft in the pan containing olive oil. Add the garlic, Marmite and bay leaves.
Add the white wine, let the onions soak it up.
Then add the vegetable stock.
Simmer for 30 minutes. Serve into oven proof bowls, ceramic or enamel.
Add 2 slices of bread to each bowl and scatter the grated cheese all over the bread, overlapping until it cover the bowl.
Put under the grill for 10 minutes. (Aga instructions, leave on the top shelf of your hottest oven for 15 minutes)
Grind on the pepper. Serve with a green salad and a good bottle of red (this soup is rich enough for red) or white wine.