What is Bastille Day?
Tomorrow is the 14th of July, Bastille Day. Across France there will be large military parades and festivities commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution. Starting with the storming of the Bastille, a large prison in Paris. The Bastille was a symbol of all that the French population detested in the ruling Bourbon kings. The period was one of great political and social upheaval. Eventually it saw the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the French Republic. Bastille Day is often called La fête Nationale in France, and became an official holiday in 1880.
French Onion Soup
In honour of this traditional French National Holiday, I am going to cook a classic recipe. French Onion Soup which probably had its origins in Roman cooking. It became prominent among eighteenth-century French peasants, for which onions were one of the staple dietary components.
The addition or use of stock in the recipe came later. As did the cheese croute topping ( a kind of crispy cheese on toast ). French Onion Soup went through a renaissance in the sixties in the USA. When American chefs really started promoting French recipes and was used as a very fancy dinner party starter. Personally I think it is altogether better as a lunch dish and a bit filling as a starter. However you like it enjoy.
What to drink?
Try pairing your French Onion Soup with a fruity and refreshingly acidic Beaujolais wine. Or why not go for the complimentary nutty caramel flavours of a brown ale.
I you like this classic French recipe why not try one of the following?
Moules à la Normande
Moules à la Normande are a variation of the classic Moules marinière using the cider produced in the region. Some recipes use mushrooms and some bacon which is how I like mine.
This is a classic French recipe that comes from the Bourgogne or Burgundy region of France. It is traditionally made using Charolais beef. Today restaurants serve far more elaborate versions of the dish which was originally a simple stew.
Know your onions
For a dish called French Onion Soup you will not be surprised to know that the onions are the secret to this dish. At least how you cook the onions. The onions need to be sautéed and slow cooked to start to release the natural sugars and caramelise them. A really good quality stock will add some much needed body. Finally a generous slug of Oloroso or Amontillado sherry more layer of flavour.
My Classic French Onion Soup
- 1 Large heavy bottomed Pan
- 1.5 kg Sweet Onions peeled and finely sliced
- 6 cloves Garlic peeled and finely crushed
- 1 ½ litres fresh Beef Stock make your own if possible
- 100 ml quality Dry Sherry
- 60 gr Butter
- 50 ml quality Olive Oil
- 1 tsp fresh Thyme Leaves finely chopped
- 2 Bay Leaves
- ½ tsp each of Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
- ¼ tsp freshly ground Nutmeg
- Half of a day old Baguette
- 50 gr grated Cheddar or Gruyère
- 50 gr grated Parmesan
- A couple of pinches Cayenne pepper
- Parsley washed, dried and finely chopped
- Heat a slug of the oil and the butter together in a large heavy bottomed pan and add the onions. Stew the onions stirring frequently until all the cooking juices evaporate and the onions start to caramelise. Begin to stir continuously, to prevent the onions from sticking and burning and cook until they reach a light brown nutty colour.
- Add the garlic, thyme, nutmeg, stock, and seasoning and bring up to the boil. Simmer gently for fifteen minutes then add the sherry and simmer for a further fifteen minutes to evaporate off the alcohol. Correct the seasoning and keep warm.
- For the croutes preheat your oven to 325 F / 170 C / Gas mark 3 and thinly slice the baguette. Lay the pieces on a baking tray and drizzle with the remaining oil. Place in the oven and bake for forty minutes until golden brown.
- Turn up the oven to 375 F / 190 C / Gas mark 5. Pour the soup into six ovenproof bowls and top with the croutes and the grated cheeses then sprinkle with the Cayenne. Place the bowls on a tray and place in the oven for fifteen minutes until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling.
- Take out of the oven, top with chopped parsley and serve. Please warn your guests about the hot bowls.
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