When I was younger, maybe four or five years old, I distinctly remember the smell of French onion soup cooking very early in the morning. I soon learnt that this meant a flock of guests were to arrive by midday for a feast cooked by my mother - it was usually similar fare - French onion soup, followed by roast pork and finished with chocolate mousse. It was the early 90s but retrospectively, we were living in the 70s. My mother worked for QANTAS during that time and her many nights spent in Parisian bistros and attending dinners at the Maltese palace surely influenced her cooking. As we ate our mother's food, my brother, sister and I would listen to her embellished tales about where she ate that dish for the first time and how she got there - meals were always a geography lesson! 

I probably will only ever feel right eating this soup on a Sunday and although I still cannot make this soup as well as my mother, it comes pretty close. Be patient with the onions, let them caramelise slowly, and don't skimp on the cheese, buy the best quality you can afford. 


100g butter
2 kg brown onions, thinly sliced
1tbsp plain flour
1L Beef stock
1/4 cup brandy
Salt and pepper

1 baguette, sliced medium on the diagonal
250g Gruyere, coarsely grated

parsley, finely chopped to serve (optional)

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. With the heat high, add the onions and stir to coat. Cook on a medium-high heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions have a nice golden colour and have caramelised.
2. Add the flour to the onions and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the brandy and beef stock and cook for a further 20 minutes until the soup is rich in colour and the onions are cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 200C. Ladle soup into bowls and transfer to a tray. Scatter soups with half the cheese. 
4. Top the baguette slices with the remaining cheese and transfer to a separate tray. Place soup and bread in oven and cook for 5-10 minutes until cheese has melted. Serve soup immediately with the cheese toasts. Scatter with parsley (optional). 

Recipe inspired by my mother, Rachel Bartolo