The rainy summer last year meant that my onion harvest was somewhat pathetic and most of the onions had to eaten or used in chutneys quickly before they went soft. My shallots, on the other hand, thrived and we had a bumper harvest. I store my shallots in trays in a fairly sterdy, 3 tiered coldframe that is situated in a corner between two house walls and is shaded by a large bay tree. This position is rubbish for growing seedlings but is excellent for storage, being warmed at night by the walls and shaded during the day by the bay. As a result, my shallots have stood well and are still very much usable. However, I know that by March they will start to sprout and will go soft so I'm currently on a mission to save our shallots by finding ways to use and preserve them now.
I'm already contemplating trying to make onion marmalade with them but I need to buy a cheap bottle of wine and some vinegar before I can begin that. In the meantime, I thought I would try French onion soup. What could be more French than onion soup made with shallots? So another weekend and another soup making session. Of course, peeling shallots is somewhat more tedious than peeling onions but once peeled I blitzed them in a food processor to chop so it wasn't that bad.
Every one knows that onions (and shallots) make you cry when you peel and chop them. This is caused by a chemical they release that irriates the lining of the nose so when peeling onions breathe through your mouth to lessen the irritation. Beware too that when you open the lid of the food processor you will get a sudden burst of this chemical. If your eyes do water then wash your hands and your face then blow your nose and that should help.
French onion (or shallot) Soup
14 oz (400g) onions or shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 pint (660ml) beef stock
1 pint (660ml) water
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel and finely chop the onions. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and frying the onion until lightly browned, stirring often but not continuously. Add the finely chopped garlic and thyme and fry for a further 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the onion to a large saucepan. Pour in the stock, water and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for half an hour. Finally add the black pepper. Ladle into warmed jars or serve hot. This soup is delicious served with slices of French bread topped with melted cheese.