Written by Hazel Powell // @hazelmairi
There is an old tale that says if you place raw onions strategically around your home they will absorb the flu virus.
Topical? Yes. But I don’t think as a planet we produce 40 million tonnes of them each year because we’re superstitious.
I would, and often do, argue that onions are the backbone of our kitchens, and therefore, our lives. (I have no opinion on onions and coronavirus; please don’t be disappointed).
King Ramses IV was buried with onions embedded into his eye sockets. The walls inside the pyramids were decorated with alliums in all their glorious layers. I was always taught that cats hailed supreme in Ancient Egypt, it sounds like the onion was pretty Godly too.
The Romans believed them to cure ails ranging from Lumbago to dog bites, and most complaints in between. In the Middle Ages onions were prescribed for hair loss, snakebites and headaches. In short, there seems nothing the humble onion cannot do. There’s no mention of halitosis mind you.
I use my medicinal onions in the kitchen. I would gauge at least 95% of the time the answer to “that smells good - what is it?” is “oh, just an onion”. It smells of hunger sated, of comfort, familiarity and of someone taking the time to cook for you.
Bad day? Sweat an onion, long and slow until it breaks down, caramelises and softens into submission. Frustrated? Fry them really hard until charred and crisp, hot oil flying and fizzing. Glum? Pickle a red onion until it’s hot pink and the most cheerful thing glowing in the fridge. It takes just fifteen minutes and is therefore the quickest piece of therapy I know.
I cannot claim this recipe will cure animal bites, or stop your hair falling out, but here’s my remedy for just about everything else.
French Onion Soup
This is a gutsy soup of only three ingredients. I recommend a large glass of French red wine for when the onions make you cry.
3 pounds of white onions
2 ounces of butter
1.7 litres of stock (I like homemade chicken stock but beef or vegetable would work well too)
Peel the onions and slice thinly. In a large saucepan, melt the butter until it begins to foam. Add the onion and toss in the butter until glossy and coated. Turn the heat down low and stir, keep stirring until the onions caramelise. Keep going until they take on a deep nutty brown colour, and then go a shade darker still. Hold your nerve here, too light and the soup will be too sweet; but be careful not to burn them, a bowl of bitter soup won’t help. Allow forty minutes, an hour, or longer. Add the hot stock, a little to begin with, then the rest. Taste and season with good salt and pepper, taste again.
Ladle into big deep bowls and top with bubbling cheese toasts. Traditionally baguette and Gruyere, I like a crust of sourdough and sharp cheddar, or a slice of whatever there is topped with whatever there is.