We have a great admiration for MFK Fisher and the soup recipe has been heavily adapted from her wonderful book How to Cook a Wolf. Such a good title. This quote from The Art of Eating really illustrates her views on the relationship between cooking and life and it is really how we like to think about these things too: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
French onion soup, or in the case of MFK’s recipe, Parisian onion soup, usually has a beef or chicken stock but we have given the soup its richness through a mushroom stock. Be gentle and patient with this soup. The onions do take a long time to brown and caramelize and you do have to stir it regularly to make sure they don’t burn. But the reward is the most wonderful depth of flavour and such a warm bowl of comfort. Sarah made this for a small group of ladies who held huge, steaming bowls in their hands in my loungeroom, crunching on cheesy toast and sipping on wine between spoonfuls. It wasn’t really cold then, but now, just a month later it is and tonight I’m going to chop onions and stand by the stove stirring until they are sweet and brown.
French Onion Soup
Based on a recipe from How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher ‘Parisian Onion Soup’
for the stock:
2kg of mushrooms roughly chopped for stock (A mix is fine- swiss browns are great. A few dried porcini doesn’t go astray either.)
6 strands of thyme
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
for the soup:
2 tbsp good quality unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1kg brown onions (organic helps if you can) sliced finely and as evenly as possible in full rounds
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp salt
light rye bread
In a large pot, place all the stock ingredients, cover with water – at least three litres, and bring to the boil. Simmer for at least an hour on low to moderate flame stirring occasionally – if you have time a couple of hours is best. Run the stock through a sieve and press the mushrooms to remove the liquid. Set the stock back on the stove and keep warm for your soup. You could also make this well in advance and freeze.
In another large pot melt the butter and oil together on a low heat – be sure not to burn the butter. Place your onions in the pot and stir until coated with the oil and butter mix. Cook on a low heat stirring every five minutes until the onions have reduced and are translucent as well as a golden brown colour. Make sure they have changed colour and are evenly coloured before you continue on to the next step.
When the onions are brown, place the flour and salt in the pot and stir until the flour is mixed in well. Add your mushroom stock and stir well. Cook the soup on a low heat until the onions are very tender. About half an hour. If the soup seems too thick add more water. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.
When ready to serve make your cheesy croutons. Toast the rye bread in thick slices, place the cheese on them and grill until the gruyere is just melted. Serve the soup in large bowls with big round spoons, placing the croutons on the surface of the soup so that the slices are soggy on the bottom, but crispy on top.
Serves 8 people