French Onion Soup

Blank Caption
Blank Caption

The America novelist and food writer Lawrie Colvin wrote that: “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.”

I’d add “good soup” to that quote.

The essence of making this complete meal a success should start with a good stock. The first thing we were ever taught at college was to make these aromatic liquids – roasted bones, simmering with vegetable trimmings and herb stalks. They were cooked gently for hours – only bad chefs boiled their stocks, we were told. Once strained they were used to make stocks, sauces, stews, cook vegetables and anything you needed to add flavour to.

Over the years of working in kitchens I’ve seen crimes against stock pots that would have made my lecturer’s skin crawl back in the College of Business Studies’s kitchens. I once watched a chef peel a dirty parsnip into a stock pot. Potato skins and egg shells were added and it generally was a dumping ground for waste. A stock is only as good as the original parts. Don’t put anything into a stock pot that you wouldn’t want to eat. There is a lot of effort involved in making good stocks but Carol Banahan has a product that gives you all of the taste with none of the effort. She gave up her job working with stocks and shares to start making stocks and gravies at her factory in Derry/Londonderry. She roasts the bones, adds only organic vegetables and herbs and slowly simmers them to perfection. One of her most popular varieties is beef bone broth. This has become a trendy “superfood” but one that people of a certain age were raised on in this country. My mum almost always had a pot of shin broth, redolent of soup celery, turnip, carrots, leeks and barley, on the go. It was deliciously rich, warming and sustaining.

You can buy Carol’s stocks in good delis and butchers or check out carolstockmarket.com for stockists. My first recipe uses her beef bone broth to make a classic French onion soup. This is one of the first things I cooked, aged about 10, religiously following the recipe from the Cordon Bleu cook book.

After, what seemed like a mountain of onions were chopped, they were cooked slowly to almost caramelized and brandy and the beef stock added. Cheese croutons were glazed on top and I thought I was the most sophisticated person on the planet.

My first recipe is for a French onion soup using Carol’s stock and some great local ingredients. There’s a bit of work involved but the result is well worth it.

My other recipe is for a pea and ham soup. What I love about soup is that it’s so seasonal.

If this was a summer soup it would be beautifully green and vibrant with whole fresh peas cooked quickly in a stock, whizzed with a little cream and finished off with some crispy parma ham.

With the colder evenings, you now need a more rib sticking, rustic soup.

In this autumn version, soaked dried peas are cooked with a ham hock and finished off with leeks, soup celery and potatoes.

The father of cuisine, chef Auguste Escoffier said that “A soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”