Since a number of people commented on the ancient soup recipes idea, here’s another for you: Onion soup. Onion soup was enjoyed by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Onions were common in the Old World and were used in many recipes: boiled, baked, and fried. For many centuries they were considered food of the poorer people. Onions were also thought to have restorative powers, making them a perfect choice for soup. French onion soup, which contains bread (called a croute) and is topped with melted cheese is descended from the sops of Medieval times. The modern recipe for French onion soup which follows is directly descended from 17th century French bouillon.
Onion soup is simply a large quantity of sliced onions slowly cooked and browned in butter, then simmered in beef bouillon. If you want to be really traditional, you can make the beef bouillon yourself from beef bones and shank meat simmered for several hours with carrots, onions, celery, seasonings, and herbs. I usually take the short cut of using beef broth purchased at the supermarket, though I use my own herbs from my greenhouse. This is the recipe I use:
2 lb medium onions, sliced lengthwise and then thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
¾ cup dry white wine
4 cups (32 oz) beef broth (the sodium reduced variety works best)
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon black pepper
6 slices of baguette (1/2 in thick)
1 ½ lb Gruyere, Comte or Emmental cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmagiano cheese
Cook onions, thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in an uncovered 4 to 5 quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Stir frequently until onions are soft and golden brown, indicating that they have carmelized: This will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in wine and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
While soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Arrange bread on a baking sheet and toast, turning over once, for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Preheat broiler.
Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Divide soup between 6 flame proof soup crocks or ramekins. Float a piece of toasted bread (croute) in each. Slice the cheese and completely cover each crock with a layer of cheese, allowing it to overhang the edges. Sprinkle with Parmagiano cheese. Broil the crocks of soup 4 – 5 inches from the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 1 – 2 minutes.