Calastoga Roasted Fennel & Gluten-Free Polenta Gratin Soup 
In the Wine Country Crush episode, I broke tradition with what is perhaps the most famous of all French country soups. With the delicious melting Gruyere cheese and my polenta croutes floating in the warm bowl, I served it as a starter in individual Le Creuset Casseroles. Here, fennel becomes its own being.  My guests were satisfied!

50g/2oz/!4 cup butter                                                                                               15ml/1 tbsp olive oil                                                 2kg/41dlb fresh fennel bulbs, peeled and sliced

5ml/1 tsp chopped fresh thyme                                                                           5ml/1 tsp caster (superfine) sugar                    15ml/1 tbsp sherry vinegar (Spanish)

1.5 Inters/2V4 pints/61/4 cups good chicken or veggie stock          25ml/11/£ tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour       150ml/!4 pint/% cup dry white wine

45ml/3 tbsp brandy                                                                                                     salt and ground black pepper 

For the croutes:

6-12 thick slices day-old French baguette, cut in thin                          1 garlic clove halved           15ml/1 tbsp French mustard  115g/4oz/1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese

DIRECTIONS:  Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and stir to coat them in the fat. Cook over a medium heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the thyme. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook the onions for about 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are very soft and golden yellow. Uncover the pan and increase the heat slightly. Stir in the sugar and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions start to brown.
Add the sherry vinegar and increase the heat again, then continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onions turn a deep, golden brown -this could take up to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in another pan.