When thinking of something hearty, I initially thought of Italy's famous minestrone, an obvious favourite with many, particularly because of its chunky consistency, making it a soup you can chew as well as slurp. After a quick stock of my wallet, however, I realised I needed to go with something that didn't require me spending much on a variety of ingredients, and I decided to go a little west of the Italian border, with the classic French onion soup.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything in the French cuisine is expensive or complicated to make. We probably have that notion due to the many recipes that have a bunch of steps and call for certain types of French wine or cheese that would be difficult to get hold of for obvious reasons. As with all cuisines of the world, there are simple French dishes that are easy to whip up, using basic ingredients that will either already be in your fridge or store cupboard.
For this particular soup, a batch of which will feed about three to four people, I needed the following ingredients:
• a knob of butter (about 20gms)
• 10 small to medium sized onions
• 2 tablespoons of flour
• 2 beef stock cubes
• 1.25 litres of water
• salt and pepper
The first step to this minimum-step recipe is the obvious – slice your onions – which is essentially the bulk of what you'll have to do here. Most recipes you'll find simply ask for the onions to be chopped roughly into thick slices. I personally prefer the slices in rings, which I then pry loose, as you would do when making onion rings. I admit this is an extra step that requires a little more time and effort, but the end result is much nicer, as the soft, translucent onions almost resemple strands of noodles floating about in what otherwise appears to be a basic soup broth.
For the actual cooking, I used a non-stick deep pot, where I first melted the butter over a medium heat.
Once sufficiently melted, I added my prepared onions.
This is a bit of a tricky stage, because the onions need to be cooked on a low to moderate heat, stirring frequently, so they don't catch and there are no brown bits that would bring a charry flavour to the soup which you don't want. A good tip I learned (from avidly watching food videos on Youtube) is to sprinkle a little salt over the onions, as soon as thy're added to the pot. This allows the moisture from the onions to be extracted, which, when released, helps keep the onions from burning.
I continued to slow-cook the onions for almost 10 minutes until they turned soft and translucent and almost jammy in consistensy. I then sprinkled over the flour.
The flour needs to be stirred well into the onions, until you have a sort of chunky paste, which I then cooked off for a further minute. The flour used here (a common step in most Eropean soups) basically serves as a thickening agent, which brings about part of the heartiness in the soup. I then crumbled in the two stock cubes and poured in the water. I gave it a final stir to incorporate everything and the covered the pot and left it to simmer over a low heat for a good 20 minutes.
Just before taking off the heat, I tasted the soup and then added salt and pepper. With stock-based soups, it's always best to check the seasoning at the very end, because most concentrated stocks already have a good amount of salt.
This is where the soup is done and you can either serve it up like it is, or go an extra step and do what I did. The classic way to serve this soup is to pour a portion in an oven proof bowl, top it with a thick slice of the crusty French baguette and sprinkle over a generous portion of Gruyere cheese. I didn't have the baguette so I made do with the end slice of multigrain loaf of bread, the grains and seeds of which, I though added a nice texture. In place of the fancy cheese, I simply grated over a hearty portion of our good old Kisan cheese and popped it in the oven at 180°C for 10-15 minutes, until the melted cheese formed a lovely golden crust on the top.