This is one of the best soups I have ever made. Truly, it is tastiness in soup form. I made it using a recipe written in my notebook by a waitress in a café in Montmartre which had no amounts, cooking times or instructions. Just ingredients, and my memory of what it tasted like. So I made up how to make it, and it has worked an absolute treat.
The secret is a good stock. If at all possible, make your own stock. Chicken, vegetable or beef, whatever your preference. Mine was made with veal bones (happy, farmer’s market veal), which I roasted and then simmered with carrots, celery, a leek, an onion, some peppercorns and thyme and parsley for 6 hours. You can follow this basic method, but using roasted chicken, beef or veal bones. Ham stock wouldn’t really work here. Yes, I know making stock seems like a real faff, but I swear on my life that it’s worth it. Honestly. Trust me. You know it makes sense.
If you really don’t have the time to make your own stock, get a couple of cans of beef consommé from the supermarket. Baxter’s do a nice one. If you can’t find that, use a tub of fresh stock from the chiller shelf. And if you can’t find that and only have access to stock cubes then you’re not trying hard enough and you should go and sit in the corner.
4 medium/large onions
Butter. A slab slightly smaller than a deck of cards.
About 3 tblsps brandy
A large glass of white wine (about 250ml)
About 2 pints of stock.(see above)
Old bread, best if it’s gone a bit stale. About 2 rolls’ worth, or equivalent.
Gruyere cheese. About 200g, grated
A nice crusty baguette
Salt and pepper
Cut the onions in half lengthways, peel them and carefully slice them (not chopped, sliced into crescents). I say “carefully” because I’ve just bought myself a shiny new Global cooks’ knife and I slipped while slicing the onions and did myself an impressively bloody injury. Happens to the best of us. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and once it’s started foam add the sliced onions.
Make sure the heat is fairly low – you want the onions to soften slowly and not burn. This is to draw out some of the sugar in the onions. Leave the onions to soften for quite a while, giving it a stir every 5 minutes or so. It might take up to 45 minutes for them to get really lovely and translucent and sweet. Keep the faith, it’ll get there. Once they’re all juicy and soft, add the brandy and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for another 5 minutes just to take the edge off the alcohol.
Add the stock and bring the whole thing up to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add half the grated gruyere and the old bread, broken up into chunks.
Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the bread has almost dissolved. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it.
Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Put thick slices of baguette on top as croutons and then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese. Put the bowls under the grill on a high heat for 4 minutes or so until the cheese starts to bubble and turn brown. Serve immediately. Moan with pleasure.