Soup season is here again – bring on the broth

Nothing warms you up like a bowl of French onion soup topped with bread and cheese

 

Soup season is here, and there’s nothing nicer than a warm bowl of broth – especially at lunchtime. There’s the smooth option, where I usually add any and all the vegetables in the fridge, along with a good stock and a splash of cream, then blitz till velvety.

I find this is the best way to increase my own children’s intake of vegetables. Or the meal-in-a-bowl soup where there is both eating and drinking. Minestrone or Thai chicken noodle soups are great examples of this. It’s more like dinner with soup on top.

A real way to make a meal out of soup is to add bread. Lately I’m making croutons in the frying pan. Just tear or cube day-old bread into bitesize pieces and drizzle with olive oil, crunchy sea salt and finely chopped rosemary. Fry low and slow until the bread is golden and delicious. Make while soup is simmering and then just scatter them over. They’re even nicer with a dusting of Parmesan cheese and add great texture to salads.

One of my favourite bread-and-soup combinations is the slice of thickly cut bread smothered with melted cheese that sits atop French onion soup. There really is nothing more divine in this cold weather than a bowl of rich, restorative broth. All the better for you when it’s made with onions and a good beef stock. The bread that sits in the bowl is half soaked in nourishing soup and the top half is covered in crunchy savoury cheese. Such a winning combination. I love to add a very thin layer of Dijon mustard to the bread just before I pile on the cheese. Gruyère is best and most traditional as it melts so well; its smooth nuttiness pairs well with sweet, slow-cooked onion.

There are a few rules when it comes to making really good French onion soup. The onions need to be thinly sliced. I do this in the food processor to save my tears and for speed. You need plenty of onions, butter and time. The butter is the perfect fat for cooking the onion as it browns and encourages a rich sweet nutty flavour to develop. Cooked low, the onions become meltingly soft and produce amazing flavour.

French onion soup
Serves 4

80g butter or ghee
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg onions, thinly sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
100ml dry sherry
1 ½ litres beef stock (homemade or a good quality shop-bought)
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 loaf rustic sourdough bread, thickly sliced
450g Gruyère cheese, grated

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly until they begin to soften. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are very sweet and golden brown. You will need to stir them regularly and it can take 1-2 hours. Add a tbsp of water if they begin to stick too much.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and bring to a simmer, scraping any brown bits as you stir. Leave to simmer for a minute before adding the bay leaf and stock. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, grill the thickly sliced bread on one side. Butter the untoasted side and spread thinly with a little Dijon mustard. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the toasts.

Lay four oven-proof bowls onto a cooking tray. Ladle the soup into the bowls then place the cheese-laden toasts on top. Place under the grill until the cheese is melted and golden. Serve whilst still hot and bubbling.

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