Onion soup

Onion soup

Carabaccia

By
From
Florentine
Serves
4
Photographer
Lauren Bamford

This Renaissance soup was said to be a favourite of Leonardo da Vinci (who was, apparently, vegetarian). One of the best known versions for this traditional Florentine soup was jotted down in the 1500s by court chef, Cristoforo da Messiburgo, and describes sliced onions cooked in vegetable broth and enriched with ground almonds, vinegar, sugar and cinnamon. Some like to think this was the inspiration for French onion soup, introduced by Catherine de’ Medici when her Florentine chefs moved with her to Paris.

Today’s carabaccia is a mellow, earthier version of the spiced Renaissance soup that relies on slow cooking to draw out the sweetness of the onions. It is extraordinarily humble but it shows how a delicious comforting meal can be made with relatively little. A springtime version includes fresh peas and broad beans, which freshen the soup and add some pretty colour, but I am a fan of simply adding one egg per person, poached in the soup itself.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1kg red onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
75g parmesan cheese, grated
4 thick slices crusty bread, grilled or toasted

Vegetable stock

Quantity Ingredient
1 small brown onion, halved
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
1-2 bay leaves
5-6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. To make the stock, put the onion, vegetable chunks, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt into a large stockpot with 2 litres water. Simmer for about 1 hour, covered. Remove the vegetables (or use for something else) and strain the stock.
  2. Have 1 litre of the vegetable stock at the ready. In a large heavy-bottomed stockpot, gently sauté the onions over the lowest heat in the olive oil with the sage leaves and salt. Sweat them, without letting them colour, to draw out the sweetness, for about 30 minutes. If they begin to get dry or stick, add some of the stock. Add the rest of the stock and simmer for 30 minutes, covered. About 5 minutes before the soup is ready, crack the eggs into the soup, top with cheese and cover, without stirring. The whites should be cooked and the yolks runny and the top covered with melted cheese.
  3. Divide the grilled bread among four bowls and ladle the soup, along with a poached egg, into each bowl, over the top of the bread. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Note

  • The vegetable stock freezes well, so it’s great to make ahead of time and keep in the freezer until needed.
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