I think most people would argue that cooking French onion soup for Valentine’s Day is not a good idea. Stinky onion breath anyone? The thing is, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day so we don’t care. Well, at least I thought I didn’t care. I can’t complain because I am the one who said it was all a load of rubbish, designed to make people spend money. I could have made Chris his favourite, individual beef Wellingtons like these that I made for my friend last week. I served them with a black salsify, spinach and gruyere gratin, my favourite way of cooking such an interesting vegetable.
Black salsify is such a joy to cook with as it is so odd! I really enjoy it’s earthy, nutty flavour but I do sympathise because of its rather unfortunate looks, like a bunch of twigs lurking in the bottom of your vegetable box. Then you cut into it and realise that it behaves oddly too, oozing out a sticky goo (similar to okra) and then requiring instant cooking or submersion in water and lemon juice/vinegar to stop it turning brown at record speed. The smell of the salsify cooking in boiling water is good, you can smell nuttiness and I sometimes think a slight whiff of candyfloss (!) but that could have been a bit of spilled sugar burning on the stove….
Black Salsify, Spinach and Gruyere Gratin
30g of butter plus extra for greasing the gratin dish
450g black salsify, peeled or scrubbed (some like to scrub their salsify but I use a ‘Y-shaped’ potato peeler and find this works well)
250g baby spinach
300ml vegetable or chicken stock
300ml single cream
Gruyere cheese (no exact amounts here as it depends on how much cheesiness you like!)
White breadcrumbs, a couple of handfuls
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/Gas6/400F and butter the inside of your gratin dish.
- Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.
- Peel the salsify and cut into the desired lengths, then drop straight into the boiling water. Cook until just tender (around 8-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salsify).
- Meanwhile, mix the stock and cream together and season.
- Place a layer of salsify in the bottom of the dish and then add a layer of spinach. Grate over some gruyere cheese then finish with the remaining salsify and spinach.
- Pour over the cream-stock mixture then mix the breadcrumbs with a generous amount of grated gruyere and sprinkle over the top of the gratin.
- Bake until golden and bubbling.
French Onion Soup with Gruyere Croutons and Parsley Oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
700g onions sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A generous splash of brandy
250ml dry white wine
2 pints of vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
A generous pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper
For the croutons
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
A fat baguette or similar
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Heat the oil and butter and add the onions, garlic and sugar. Cook for a few minutes on a medium-high heat then reduce the heat to minimum until the bottom of the pan is coated with caramelised onion goo (around 45 minutes).
- Add the brandy and cook until you can smell that the alcohol has burnt off. Add the white wine, stock, bay leaf, seasoning and give everything a good stir.
- Bring up to simmering point and leave to cook for an hour to an hour and a half (on the lowest heat).
- In a bowl, combine the parsley and then add enough oil to loosen the mix.
- When the soup is almost ready, cut thick slices (on the diagonal) from the baguette and toast lightly on both sides before sprinkling over the gruyere and toasting again until bubbling. Drizzle some of the parsley oil over each crouton.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the cheesy-herby croutons.