Remember how my room is really tiny, my kitchen has no facilities, and as a result I more or less confined myself to salads as my evening meal? Then remember how I posted about my cours de cuisine which was helping me break that habit and start cooking real food? Well, further to that, I thought it’d be nice to start posting about what I’ve been eating since arriving here. I’ve been making an effort to try to take advantage of French food, but my more pressing criteria are definitely budget (my weekly earnings quickly dropped from 51€ to 26€), speed (I prefer to spend as little time in that grubby communal kitchen as possible), and ease (more because of a lack of equipment than a lack of cooking skills, of course. Although I do lack both). So just so you know, any recipes you see on here in the near future will likely cost less than 3€ a person and be perfectly possible to produce using only a stove top and a toaster oven. That’s right, I don’t even have a microwave. Pity me.
So today we’re going for the classic French staple: soupe à l’oignon. (Or soupe à l’ognon without the ‘i’ if you listen to the posh pretentious French men who decided to ‘change’ French a few years back). The backbone of this dish is the cheapest concept ever: onions, garlic and stock. It’s also a great way of using up all those stale old baguettes you have gathering dust in your cupboard (or at least, you would if you lived alone in France). Any sort of bread, stale or not, would work though.
In fact, the only thing that really tilts this over the edge of ridiculously-cheap is the cheese, which is optional although highly recommended. Go with a cheaper cheese if you like, but gruyère has the potential to turn a lowly staple into a dish with a real gourmet feel. By my standards, anyway. Judge away.
This recipe is also a great excuse to treat yourself to a bottle of white wine. You only use 20cl (¾ cup in the US) of the stuff in the recipe itself, but trust me, it makes a difference. The only problem for me is that if I’m going to buy white to drink on its own, I prefer it sweet, but in cooking, dry is better. I have a bottle of Pinot Gris in my refrigerator right now – it emerged as a strong favourite after the wine trip of the Route des Vins d’Alsace a couple of weeks ago – and it’s divine in a frosty glass, but not so much in a steaming bowl amongst onions and garlic and stuff. So with that in mind, try a Muscat or, better in my opinion, a Reisling. (Get me, with my wine advice. A lot has changed since the days of the master-shot…)
So, with all the kerfuffle out of the way, here’s what you actually do to end up with nice starter portions for six people. The whole thing will take about 45 minutes, I expect. More, if you invite your girls over to enjoy the remainder of the bottle with you as you cook, as I so often do. Also, since this blog is supposed to be fun and stuff, my recipe contains a lot of conversational crap: just think of me as your granny blethering away in the kitchen next to you, and it’ll be endearing, not irritating :) I don’t think I’m allowed to just take a recipe out of a magazine and publish it on my blog for free, so I’ve put my own little spin on it as well as translating it from French: to give credit where credit’s due, though, this recipe came from a fantastic collection of recipes in ViePratique‘s Gourmand magazine. It was No. 14 of their ‘Best Of’ series, from February-March 2012, called ‘Nos Meilleures Recettes Faciles’, but I don’t think you can buy it from them any more :( On with the recipe, then:
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You peel a kilo of onions, half them lengthways, and then slice ’em up real thin. Then you heat them gently in one tablespoon of oil and a couple more of butter, for about ten minutes. You want them caramelised but not blackened (duh). They shouldn’t need too much stirring, but keep an eye on them. If you don’t live at the opposite end of the corridor from the kitchen, that is, in which case just leave them. I always do and it’s always fine. While they’re cooking, mix up 1.25l (5 cups) of stock. The recipe book calls for beef or poultry stock, but I have vegetarian friends coming out of my ears so I compromise. You’re welcome, ladies ;)
Also during this time, you need to be preparing your garlic using whatever method you prefer/have access to. For me, this means using a short little paring knife to try and chop them up as tiny as I can. I don’t recommend this, but I’m too cheap to buy a mortar and pestle only to throw it away in a couple of months’ time when I go home. Then sprinkle 30g (2 tbsp) of flour over your mix, along with your garlic. Mix in for a couple of minutes, gradually add your wine and stock and bring to the boil. Add a couple of sticks* of thyme and a bay leaf, cover and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes.
*And by ‘sticks’, I mean ‘sprigs’ – thanks Dad and Jenny. I don’t know what my problem is.
After your half hour, preheat the grill, remove the bay leaf and season your soup to taste before serving into small bowls, leaving space for your bread. Then try to cover as much of the surface area of the soup as possible with the bread – just imagine your soup is the arctic sea, your pieces of bread are lifeboats and pieces of Titanic debris, and you’re about to dump a whole load of cheese on top, which will be the Jacks and the Roses. Be merciful! Finally, sprinkle your grated cheese of choice – gruyère works best – on top and stick the bowls in the grill for six to seven minutes, or until Jack and Rose are browning and bubbling nicely. CAREFULLY, for pete’s sake carefully, remove from the grill and serve once the cheese is all gooey and delicious and the smell is wafting all over your living space and you’re drooling all over your apron… oh wait, I think that’s me.
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And there you go! If you’re serving this to children you need to be really prudent because it’ll take a long time to cool down, especially with the bread and cheese insulating it on top. In fact, even without any children involved, just be careful, ok? No lawsuits please, I don’t want to have to call in any favours ;)
So, something to consider for Sunday lunch or something, I don’t know. Hope you enjoy! If you end up making it, please do let me know below how you got on. Especially if you used Alsatian wine in your recipe because that would make me so so happy.
Bons appetits à tous!