We went on a mad shopping spree this week and a number of Le Creuset pots just so happened to find their way from the store's shelves to the ones in our kitchen. So, I thought it might be nice to break our lovely French pots in by cooking something decidedly French... onion soup. This is an amazingly simple dish, but it's incredibly satisfying to eat, especially when the weather turns cold, as it has done here of late. This recipe will feed four, and if it's decidedly nippy out, you could add two or three tablespoons of cognac to the soup just before serving... that will certainly warm your cockles.
1½ lb (700 g) onions, halved and then sliced into 3mm slices (Roscoff or Spanish onions work well)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
½ level tsp sugar
2 tbsp flour
2 pints (1.2 litres) hot vegetable stock (from Marigold Swiss bouillon powder)
10 fl oz (275 ml) dry white wine, boiled for 30 seconds to remove the alcohol (we used a Riesling)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
baguette, cut into 1-2 cm thick slices
8 oz (225 g) Gruyère, grated
Begin by melting the butter and oil together in a large heavy-based saucepan or flameproof casserole of 6 pint (3.5 litres) capacity on a medium heat. Add the onions and soften for about 5 minutes (see photo below), stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue cooking for 20–30 minutes, until the onions are an even, rich brown caramel colour, remembering to stir to prevent burning. It's important not to stir too often, as this will prevent the onions from caramelising, so let them sit for a minute or two, so they stick a bit but don't burn, before moving them about.
Only when the onions are soft enough to crumble between your finger and thumb are you ready to move on to the next step. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, stir in and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Then add the wine and the stock, season with pepper to taste and simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off any impurities now and then (see photo below).
While the soup is cooking, pop the slices of baguette into the oven - gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C) should do the trick. When the soup is ready, ladle it into individual heatproof bowls, place the slices of baguette on top, cover with a deep sprinkling of Gruyére and then pop the bowls into the oven until the cheese is bubbling (see photos below). Serve immediately, but be careful... it's hot, hot, hot!