My Dad's visit has come to an end, he is safely back in England and I miss him dearly. The day he left and the few days following were miserable. We had such a fantastic time. Not only did he take with him some lovely memories, pictures, and souvenirs, he also took the weather! For his entire visit the weather was beautiful. Perfectly warm and sunny during the day as well as wonderfully crisp and chilly in the evening. However, the moment he left the weather took a turn for the worse! Rain and dreariness all around!
So, to make the most of the dreary weather and to alleviate my grey mood, I am turning to pure comfort food. Otherwise known as.. French Onion Soup!
Sweet caramelized onions simmered in a rich beef stock, topped with a thick slice of french bread that is covered with ridiculous amounts of melted, bubbly cheese...Delicious!
The secret to a good French Onion Soup is 'Patience'. Caramelizing the onions is time consuming but essential to this dish. You need approximately one hour or more of cooking time for the onions to slowly release their natural sugars and to become completely caramelized.
After the caramelization process, some add Cognac, Sherry, red or white wine to deglaze the pan and to add depth of flavour to the soup. In my opinion, sherry produces the most "authentic" taste.
Another tip is to simmer the soup slowly for as long as possible to ensure all of those wonderful ingredients have plenty of time to mingle.
The type of cheese that is traditionally used in French Onion Soup is 'Gruyere'. If this is not available you could substitute sharp Cheddar or any other good melting cheese.
Chopping all of those onions can be a daunting and tearful process, but whenever I am about to get up close and personal with a large amount of onions I am always armed with a newly sharpened chef knife and my onion goggles! They may look ridiculous, but I'm telling you, they work!
3 tbls butter
6 large yellow onions, halved and sliced ( This will seem like a very large amount of onions, but once caramelized they will reduce significantly in volume. )
8 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup medium-dry sherry
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen string
2 bay leaves
4-6 slices of day old french bread
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
Over a medium heat, melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot (I used my 7 qt Le Creuset pot). Add sliced onions and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Note: Your pot will be full with onions, however, in time they will cook down.
Cook onions, stirring occasionally for about 45-50 minutes. At this point the onions should be golden and slightly sticky. Adjust heat if necessary. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a further 20-25 minutes or until the onions are brown, sticky and the bottom of the pan has accumulated a delicious dark brown glaze.
Increase heat and add sherry scraping up all the crispy bits. Once sherry has evaporated add the beef stock, thyme and bay leaves. Stir, bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer gently for two hours, stirring every now and then. Remove and discard herbs, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Note: This part can be made up to two days ahead. Just reheat before ladling into bowls and adding croutons.
10 minutes before serving, toast the french bread. Ladle soup into ovenproof bowls and top each one with a slice of toasted bread. Top with generous amounts of cheese and broil until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
Serve with a small glass of Sherry if desired.