French Shallot Soup

4 (2 as main course)
12 Shallots OR Onions, trimmed, sliced, and braised
3 cups beef stock
1 cup water
3 tablespoons brandy
2 springs fresh thyme (or 1/4 tsp dried)
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
8 slices of bagette toast (or 4 depending on how many your serving)
1/4 pound Emmenthaler cheese
fresh chives for garnish (optional)

Shallots are a fun alternative to onions, and can add a sweeter, more pleasant taste to the traditional french onion soup.

First peel and trim the shallots. Just cut off the very top and leave the root end intact. Make a slight slice down the side, just enough to get through the skin and first layer of the shallot (or onion). Peel away the skin and any discolored or tough layers.

Since shallots often come as ‘doubles’, separate the halves (still keeping the root portion intact) and trim away any tough interior skin.  Slice the shallots in 1/4 inch slices, down to the root end.

Toss the sliced shallots (or onions) in a light coating of olive oil, a few grinds of black pepper and a good sprinkle of kosher salt. Put in a non-stick roasting pan or oven proof skillet and set in a 350 degree oven. Now all you have to do is leave the onions for about 45 minutes. Don’t touch, don’t move, don’t shake – just leave them. This is what gives them caramalization – which gives them the depth of flavor that is needed for a great onion soup. After the first 45 minutes, check the shallots, tossing to assess the browning. If there is just slight browning, return to the oven, checking every 10 minutes, until there is a lot of deep brown color, but not dried out or burnt. Onions will take longer than shallots – sometimes up to 1 1/2 hours. Once browned, time to make the soup!

Bring the beef stock, water, brandy, thyme and bay leaf to a simmer. Add the braised shallots, and simmer for 45 minutes then taste for salt and pepper. If using fresh thyme, remove the stems. Preheat your broiler to high.

As the broiler is heating up, time to prepare the cheese and bread – the two other components to this triumverate of a soup. Use the best Emmenthaler you can afford, as it is an elemental part of the recipe.
Put some nice thick slices of baguette under the broiler as it is heating up, just to toast lightly on both sides. Ladle soup into some bowls or crocks, add the toasted baguette slices and cover with the shredded/sliced Emmenthaler. Place under the broiler until bubbly and lightly browned – just a few minutes.
(adapted from Time in the Kitchen)