French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup is a delicious soup. It does take a fair amount of elapsed time because the onions can take 90 minutes plus to cook and then it simmers for about an hour once all the ingredients are in. Good to do if you are in the kitchen for something else anyway as the onions need occasional stirring.
Another tip of the hat to Felicity Cloake.
Depending on the cider or wine used the flavour can be more or less acidic. You might find that some wines will give an acidic edge and you would reduce or omit the vinegar.

Ingredients

  • 80g butter, plus a little extra for the toasts
  • 4 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 3 sprigs thyme, just the leaves
  • A bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (vary this depending on the acidity of the wine/cider)
  • 400ml medium cider (or white wine)
  • 600ml good-quality beef stock
  • Dash of calvados or other brandy (optional)
  • 8 slices of baguette
  • 1 clove of garlic, halved
  • 100g Gruyère, grated

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat. Add the onions, season and cook, stirring regularly, until caramelised and deep brown. (Once they’ve softened, you can turn up the heat a little, but keep an eye on them.) This will probably take about 90 minutes.
  2. Stir in the flour and thyme and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring the flour in, then add the vinegar and a third of the cider, stirring and scraping all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the rest of the cider and the stock, and bring to the boil. Add the bay leaf. Simmer for about an hour. Meanwhile, heat the grill and rub the baguette slices with the cut side of the garlic clove. Brush with melted butter, and toast on both sides.
  3. Add the brandy to the soup and check the seasoning.
  4. To serve, ladle into ovenproof dishes and top with 2 croutons and a mound of cheese. Grill until golden, then serve immediately.

Cock-a-Leekie

Cock-a-Leekie is a traditional Scottish chicken and leek soup that is very tasty. You are poaching a chicken in chicken stock and then just cooking some vegetables. Simple and perfect.
This is based on a Mary Berry recipe. I’m not sure if the prunes are traditional but they do add a background sweetness and work well.
With the meat of the whole chicken in the soup, along with the vegetables, it can get pretty “thick”, or crowded. Adding a little vegetable stock (the wonderful Marigold Boullion) can thin it to a nicer consistency without losing the great chicken flavour.

Ingredients

  • 1 small chicken
  • 2 litres chicken stock (or use a vegetable stock), add more later if needed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 medium leeks, or just 3 if they are huge, cleaned of grit and halved lengthways, and then sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthways, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, halved lengthways, sliced
  • 12 ready-to-eat dried prunes, cut into halves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Sit the chicken in a large saucepan so it fits snugly and add the stock; you need enough to cover the chicken.
  2. Add the bay and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil on a high heat. Cover and simmer for 1–1¼ hours. Take the chicken out to cool and cover with foil.
  3. Add the leeks, carrots, celery and prunes to the cooking liquid. Add any extra stock if it’s needed.
  4. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
  5. Pull the meat from the chicken carcass into and cut into bite-sized pieces, discarding any skin and bone. Remove the bay leaves from the pan, add a little salt and pepper if needed, return the chicken to the pan and stir. Heat until piping hot.

The cock-a-Leekie soup really needs no garnish or fanciness. It’s just a big bowl of lovely chicken soup.

Variant

A good variant to make the dish into more of a carby meal is to soften off some thin egg noodles as the pack instructions say, and then add the drained noodles to the soup just before serving.

Leek and Potato Soup

Washing the leeks in cold water to remove grit
Washing the leeks

A very delicious and simple no fuss Leek and Potato soup, which has the merit of being veggie. Much better than you might imagine. This is based on a Delia recipe. Lovely warm. Can also be served chilled as Vichysoisse

Ingredients

  • 4 large leeks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced, about 1cm cubes is fine
  • 50g butter
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon, it’s indispensable)
  • 250 ml milk
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve:
  • Snipped fresh chives or chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cream or crème fraiche

Method

Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
  1. Start by trimming the leeks, discarding any tough or scraggy outer layer.
  2. First, cut the bottom half off each leek (the white bit) a short distance below the point where the leaves splay. This bit doesn’t have any soil or grit and can be quickly cut in half lengthwise and sliced.
  3. Split the top sections in half lengthways and slice them quite finely, then wash them thoroughly in two or three changes of water to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
  4. In a largish saucepan, melt the butter, then add the leeks, onions and potatoes.  Season with some salt and pepper, then cover and let the vegetables sweat over a very low heat for about 15 minutes. You don’t want any colouring or browning.
  5. Then add the stock and milk, bring to simmering point, cover and let the soup simmer very gently for a further 20 minutes – take care, if you have the heat too high the milk in it may cause it to boil over.
  6. Now you can put the whole lot into a blender – leave it to cool first – and blend to a purée.
  7. Blend the soup in batches, then return the soup to the saucepan and reheat gently, tasting to check the seasoning.
  8. Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche to each serving and sprinkle with freshly snipped chives (fabulous) or parsley.
I like croutons with this.

Croutons

Bag of frozen croutons
Frozen croutons

Croutons are often a lovely addition to a soup. They give a texture and some carbohydrates if they are needed. If you serve them in a bowl then folks can add as many or as few as they prefer.

The trouble with croutons is making them. Usually, when you think of them it’s all a bit too late and you don’t have any suitable bread and myriad other reasons why you just won’t bother.

The freezer is your saviour here. I keep a bag of pre-cut croutons in the freezer for just such occasions. You can make them in about 15 minutes with almost no effort.

Whenever I have leftover homemade bread (either from the breadmaker or handmade) I cube it up into croutons. My preferred size is quite rustic, about 1.5cm (⅔”) square. I also trim the crusts as they can go quite crusty and hard. Leave them on if you prefer. Keep a poly bag in the freezer and add croutons every time there’s some leftover bread.

Croutons don’t keep well when cooked. They can dry right out and become overly firm and crunchy. You need to serve them within 10-15 minutes of being ready.

If they are larger sized I find they have a nice crunchy outside but a slightly softer centre which is the preferred texture as far as I am concerned. I also prefer white bread croutons as I think that is nicer than some of the denser types of bread.

Method

  1. They defrost in 10 minutes in a warm kitchen, if you spread them around, while the oven is warming to about 180C.
  2. Put them in a big enough bowl and add a glug of some vegetable, or olive oil if it’s not too strong.
  3. Stir them around so they absorb the oil, adding more if you need it. When you cook them any excess will come out.
  4. Spread them on an oven tray and put them in the oven for 5-6 minutes till they look a golden brown but not too dark
  5. Put them in a serving bowl lined with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess