I have to make a confession – I did not want to mess with a classic. It is a favourite in our household and my son will order it whenever we dine out during winter. Due to COVID restrictions my son missed out on his graduation ceremony. So I made the vegetarian version for his graduation celebratory dinner (French themed) we had at home a few weeks back.
Traditionally made with a robust beef stock, I struggled to find something that would offer the same richness and depth of flavour. A few experiments later, I came up with this winning formula for a robust vegetarian stock.
You cannot whip up French onion soup in the space of half an hour. Please allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t rush the slow caramelisation of onions.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1.2kg onions, finely sliced
3-4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
500ml dry white wine (Riesling)
2 litres special vegetable stock
6 baguette slices, cut on an angle, grilled on one side and topped with grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy based saucepan and stir in the onions, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook over a low heat for about an hour until the onions are golden and caramelised, then pour the wine and stock and cook for another hour.
Preheat the grill. When ready to serve, check soup for seasoning and stir in the brandy. Pour into oven proof bowls and top each with a baguette slice, cheese side up. Place under the hot grill to brown and bubble the cheese. Sprinkle parsley over the baguette and serve with a warning to your guests that the soup will be more than boiling hot!!! Serves 6.
SPECIAL VEGETABLE STOCK
If I know I need to make vegetable stock in the upcoming week, I usually save celery hearts, mushroom stalks and rinds of parmesan. To be honest, when making stock, I keep my end use in mind and intuitively add what I think would be a good addition. Forgive me that this is only approximate and just a list of ingredients I used to make my special stock.
1 cup of coarsely chopped celery
1 cup of coarsely chopped carrot
3-4 large mushrooms, roughly chopped
4-5 dried Shitake mushrooms, rinsed
150g onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried sea weed powder or kelp powder
1 teaspoon Bonito flakes
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon Marmite
1 /2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
Thyme and parsley stalks
2 tablespoons of butter
2.5 litres of boiling water
Heat butter in your largest saucepan. Fry the onions, garlic, celery and carrot. After five minutes of frying, add both varieties of mushrooms and the herb stalks. Then add the water and all other aromatics. Let the contents come up to a simmer and cook uncovered for half an hour. Remove any foam or scum that comes up on top. Pass through a fine strainer and use as needed. Makes 2 litres stock.