Most people associate onion soup with France, but in reality it has been around since the time of the Romans. Because of it’s cheap ingredients, onion soup has always been the food of the poor. The modern French version is said to come from les Halles in Paris, which was once a huge market at the heart of the city, this was sadly demolished in 1971, when it moved to Rungis dans le Banlieue near Orly Airport.
But enough of French onion soup, this is a recipe for the Spanish version, made with pimentón de la Vera, to keep the cold out and grow hairs on your chest!
Receta de Sopa de Cebolla (serves 3)
2 large onions (sliced in rings)
1 head of garlic (finely chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 pimiento rojo (chopped)
1 pint of home made chicken stock
1 glass of red wine
a splash sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
a level dessertspoon of flour
a large squirt of anchovy paste
olive oil as required (if the onions start to look dry)
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
grated Manchego cheese (to cover the croutons)
Slice two large onions (Spanish if you can get them) and cook them slowly in lots of olive oil.
Start with half a cup of oil and add more if the pan starts to look dry. Stir often or they will burn!
The idea is not so much to brown the onions, but to sofregir (underfry or poach) them. This is a particular Catalan and Spanish cooking method to bring out the sweetness and produce soft sticky onions that are almost falling apart. With two sliced onions, this took about an hour, but there is a heat diffuser under my terracotta pot, which slows the cooking down and heats the pan evenly – it’s not necessary to stir constantly with this and all the other food prep can be done just so long as the onions get stirred every 5 minutes or so.
While the onions are cooking, burn the outside of a red pepper – on the hob, under the grill (broiler) or on a barbecue. When black all over, put the pepper into a paper bag or plastic container, so that it sweats.
After 10 minutes or so, the blackened skin will peel off easily to reveal a sweet and smokey pimiento rojo beneath. Remove the stalk and seeds, then chop.
When the onions are soft and sticky add the celery, carrot and garlic.
Next add the roasted red pepper,
followed by a dessertspoon of chopped parsley.
Sprinkle on the pimentón, thyme and flour – mix to create a roux.
In the meantime, slice some stale bread, rub it with olive oil on both side and bake it in the oven until golden brown. When the soup’s ready put it into individual oven proof bowls, grate some Manchego cheese onto the croutons and place one in each bowl. Put the soup and croutons under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately (though one of the fantastic things about croutons, is that they maintain their crunch for quite some time in a bowl of soup) with a touch more parsley for decoration.
The flavour is predominantly of onion (as you would expect) with sweet pimiento rojo and a reassuring warm smokey kick from the pimentón. The grated Manchego on top of the croutons adds a perfect umami (savoury) finish. I recommend that you drink a fino sherry with the sopa de cebolla and in particular, Fino Cebolla from Bodegas El Monte.