Recipes: Niall McKenna’s French onion soup and red onion focaccia

Rise to the challenge of perfecting Niall’s bread recipe

An image of Niall McKenna's French onion soup
Niall McKenna's French onion soup

It is always a good idea to perfect a dish that you will never tire of. For me this is bread - it never fails to disappoint. In the restaurants, bread is one of the first jobs we give our apprentices because the sense of accomplishment from making your first bread is brilliant.

Focaccia is one of the simplest breads you can make and can be topped with anything you like. This week, I have paired this with a very traditional French onion soup. Why not give these a try at home?

French Onion Soup

(Serves 4)

  • 50g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg white onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 250ml white wine, dry is recommended
  • 1.2L chicken stock
  • 2 slices baguette
  • 140g gruyere cheese, grated
  • To begin, add the olive oil and butter to a heavy, bottomed pot to melt. Once melted, add in the chopped onions to coat in the oil before placing the lid on and cooking on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • After this time has passed, remove the lid to add in the sugar, stirring for a further 15 minutes until the onions are caramelised. Then add in the garlic cloves and plain flour, continuing to stir.
  • Next, add in the wine and increase the heat to reduce. Once reduced, add in the chicken stock, placing the lid back on and reducing to a simmer for a further 15 minutes of cooking. At this stage, give it a taste and season if necessary.
  • To prepare the bread, toast on both sides under the grill and top with cheese to melt.
  • Be careful not to put the grill on too high a setting as this will burn the bread easily.
  • When ready to serve, ladle the soup into bowls with the cheesy toast on top, leaving it on top of the soup.
Red Onion Focaccia
An image of Niall McKenna's red onion focaccia
Niall McKenna's red onion focaccia

  • 300ml tepid water
  • 3 tsp fresh yeast
  • 500g Italian type ‘00′ strong flour, plus extra for rolling and dusting
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • A glug of extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 15g coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • To begin, mix the tepid water and yeast in a small bowl until dissolved.
  • Sieve the flour and salt in a large bowl, making a well in the centre. Pour in half of the liquid and the olive oil, mixing together. When it begins to come together, add in the remaining liquid to form a sticky dough.
  • Sprinkle some flour onto a clean surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes, using more flour if necessary. The dough should not be sticky, but smooth and elasticated.
  • Next, oil a bowl and place the dough in, then oil some cling film to cover the bowl. Leave for up to 90 minutes in a warm, dry place to allow it to rise until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is proving, caramelise the red onions in a pot with olive oil, cooking until soft. Remember not to let the onions burn or overcook. Remove from the heat to leave to the side.
  • When the dough has risen, knock out the air with your fist while it remains in the bowl, leaving for a further 15-20 minutes, still covering in clingfilm.
  • Then oil the baking tray with olive oil, placing the dough onto the tray. There is no need to manipulate the dough as it will naturally cook into the shape of the tray.
  • Using your finger, gently prong the dough evenly, drizzling olive oil over evenly and scattering with sea salt and caramelised onions.
  • Place into a 180C preheated oven and bake for 25-35 minutes until crusty and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Remove and place onto a cooling tray.
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