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Still got Christmas cheeseboard leftovers? Be bowled over by this new take on an old favourite from Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite

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The new year has begun, and yet leftovers of my fun-filled decadent Christmas remain. Said remnants are mostly cheese and chocolate if truth be told, and their very presence is giving me that nagging feeling that I really can’t continue to eat this way for too much longer – I mean, Christmas gluttony is all well and good, but I’m acutely aware that I’m on borrowed, if not fully elapsed time!

But what to do with that precious cheese? (I know the chocolate will take care of itself, with help from members of the family.) I know I can’t bear to waste any, and yet I don’t want to create anything too rich or overwhelming, as I’ve certainly been there and done that this yuletide. So, my idea turned to soup, and as you may already know I really adore a good soup – I think if you trawl through my past articles there are at least four or five different soup recipes. Soup is just the best, so nurturing, filling, great when on a budget and just the perfect pick-me-up on a cold day.

Being a child of the seventies and eighties, I’m naturally a sucker for a French onion soup. I will always remember the thrill of seeing for the first time the molten cheese on a floating toast and then trying not to burn myself silly on the melting cheese, but failing dismally as it was just too damn tempting to not snaffle quickly. It was just my idea of heaven, sweet, nutty, stringy cheese, unlike any I had tried before married with an umami rich depth of ‘oniony’ broth.

Roasted Red Onion Soup with Cheeseboard Rarebit Toasts (54084176)
Roasted Red Onion Soup with Cheeseboard Rarebit Toasts (54084176)

It was also one of the first things my husband and I attempted to cook for our very first dinner party when we were young out of work actors living in a tiny flat in South London. . . oh, the sophistication of it!

So this soup is always close to my heart, and with memories of it I thought I’d try a bit of a riff on the classic. Mainly because of what I had to play with ingredient wise – I had a glut of red onions residing in the fridge, whereas traditionally white/brown onions are used, and I also wasn’t blessed with the traditional gruyere that’s usually used for the floating melty crouton. So, I needed something to melt atop the delicious soup and I thought how perfect a Welsh rarebit would be. After all, rarebit is really just an elaborate cheese on toast, with many recipe variations if you search, but this rarebit is based on the one I grew up with in Cardiff and similar to the one we serve at Gastrono-me every day.

I found that by using red onions and red wine this adapted soup actually took on a fruitier flavour than the traditional one, and as I don’t use beef stock, it was actually easier to achieve an intensity with these ingredients.

For the rarebit a good mature cheddar is most people’s go to, but that was predictably snaffled on New Year’s Eve, so along with the small wedge that I did have left, I added some grated Lancashire, and a delicious end of Caerphilly, but really any of our hard British regional cheeses would be perfect.

I truly hope your 2022 has begun with a bang, and that it is going to be wonderful for you all. I have high hopes that it is going to be a very exciting and productive year and I literally can’t wait to begin on new plans and dreams.


(Serves 4-6)


750g red onions sliced

4 tablespoons of olive oil

30g butter

1 large glass of red wine

1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of port

2 teaspoon of sugar

2 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 litre of vegetable stock

Salt and ground black pepper

½ French stick for rarebit toasts

Cheeseboard rarebit mix:

100g of Lancashire cheese, grated

75g of Caerphilly cheese, grated

50g of extra mature Cheddar cheese, grated

3 tablespoons of milk

1 teaspoon of English mustard

½ teaspoon of white pepper

Salt to taste

2 egg yolks


Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8.

Put the onions in a large ovenproof crockpot, pour over the olive oil and roast for 25 mins or until the onions have softened and begun to char at the ends slightly.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a medium heat on the hob.

Add the butter, red wine, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, port, sugar, thyme and bay leaf and minced garlic.

Stir constantly until jammy and caramelised.

Pour in the vegetable stock and season to taste, cook for a further 15 mins.

Meanwhile, make the rarebit mix. Add the grated cheeses, mustard, salt and pepper to a bowl and beat well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, with a little of the milk and beat well after each addition. Continue until you have a golden well-incorporated mix.

When ready to serve, cut the bread into 6 rounds and toast lightly under a hot grill.

Dollop on the rarebit mix and grill until the toasts are puffy and bubbling hot.

Pour the warmed soup into bowls and top with the melting cheesy rarebit toast.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 277980

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