While this February has not been quite as "February" as this month normally is, I'm still craving the simplicity and warmth of a good soup. This weekend Harry and I had planned to go up to the cottage for another weekend in the snow, but a combination of the warm-ish weather and getting ready to fly to UK on Thursday kept us in the city. Last weekend we picked up everything we needed to make french onion soup for lunch at the cottage, but as we stayed home this soup became a warm and light Sunday lunch for the two of us.
There's something so comforting about french onion soup. I don't know whether it's because it makes my house smell like Christmas thanks to the onions cooking in butter (which for us is the always the first thing we do as it's the basis for our stuffing), or if it's the rich broth laced with brandy. It could also be the melty, cheesy topping that brings this dish to another level entirely.
This recipe is adapted from Canadian celebrity chef Michael Smith's recipe in his "The Best of Chef at Home" cookbook. I picked up this cookbook at university when Michael Smith visited the campus at Queen's. I loved this cookbook as it very much encourages improvisation - which is totally my style of cooking. Harry can attest as I rarely make a recipe adhering to the instructions all the way through. I always add a dash or this or that and sometimes even replace entire ingredients. Anyhow, it's a great cookbook for anyone trying to figure out how to be a bit more creative in the kitchen or even get on their way to making their own recipes.
For a slightly Canadian twist I added a wee bit of maple syrup in the onion caramelization phase to add a little extra sweetness and to brown up the onions a little more. I like my caramelized onions to be sticky and sweet, plus I think the flavour of maple syrup pairs very nicely with the herbs used in this recipe. And as for the British, I wanted to use beef instead of chicken stock but I was out of beef stock cubes, so I added in a teaspoon of marmite to make up for some of that rich, marrow-like flavour that beef stock would bring. If you don't have marmite, don't worry. Harry made us stock up the last time we were in the UK and we have two huge jars at our disposal, but the soup will be just as delicious without it. (Though I highly recommend it - embrace the Marmite!)
French-Canadian (and slightly British) Onion Soup
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 large white onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
sprinkle of sea salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1/2 Cup Brandy
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1 teaspoon Marmite
2 sprigs each of fresh rosemary & thyme
a couple slices of nice bread (we used homemade white bread), toasted
2 cups of shredded gruyere and emmental cheese
First, peel and thinly slice your onions, sticking your head in the freezer between every half onion to prevent serious weeping.
In a large soup pot, heat vegetable oil and add the butter and melt until just bubbly. Add in sliced onions, water, salt and pepper, and maple syrup. Cover and let sweat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the onions have release all their moisture.
When onions are soft and wet, remove the lid and continue to cook on medium-high heat until water has evaporated, stirring every couple of minutes. Turn heat to low and let onions cook, stirring not constantly but enough to prevent sticking. When ready, onions should be golden brown, very soft and smelling wonderful.
Return onions to high heat and add the brandy, stirring constantly until the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Crumble in two chicken stock cubes and the teaspoon of marmite and then top with 4 cups of boiled water. Toss in the sprigs of rosemary and thyme and bring the pot of soup to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes or so.
Remove the rosemary and thyme stalks and spoon soup into oven-proof bowls. Toast your bread and cut pieces to fit your bowls.
Top each bowl with some of the cheese and then put under the broiler (or grill, as they would call it abroad) until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.
Serve and enjoy!