From my weekly article in COASTAL SCENE, issue dated 29th March 2012
It being the First Day of Spring as I started this week’s column, I thought of new season’s English lamb cooked with a sprig of rosemary. Then I looked into the garden at the rosemary bush…. And my thinking was: “I’m not going out for a sprig of that. I’ll make some soup instead.
First – Take Stock
The first step to good soup – and with deference to commercially available products in cans, packets and cartons nothing beats home-made – is stock. You can make it with cubes or powders if you like, but my recommendation is: buy a chicken.
Start by boiling the fowl, with a few off-cuts of bacon or ham, a chopped celery stick, an onion, a carrot and fresh thyme, which produces super stock. Your bird can always be removed about fifteen minutes before it’s fully tender, stuffed with a pre-cooked ‘farce’ and browned in a very hot oven if you like.
The stock enables you to produce a huge pan of delicious rice pilaff, which fills the blighters up, accompanied by a home-made tomato sauce and, say, pork chops. Or, use it for soup.
If you roast a chicken, the cooked bones can be used to make a smaller quantity of stock. Don’t add pepper to a stock, put it in when you use it.
Then there’s a Brown Stock, invaluable for good stews and casseroles, gravy, too. Ask the butcher for veal and beef bones — a pork one or two won’t go amiss — and have him chop them into hand-size pieces. Bake in the oven until the meaty remnants are brown.
In a large pot, stir-fry for a few minutes, in a little oil, some onions, celery, carrots and other bits and bobs of veggies that are handy, with some chopped up bacon. Put in plenty of water and add the baked bones, some seasoning and either a bouquet garni or a few good pinches of fresh sage, thyme, bay, parsley and oregano. Cover and simmer for several hours. This stock may be put in small containers and frozen.
Vegetable Stock Folk often look blank at the words “Vegetable Stock”— at least the carnivores among us do — but a good one can greatly enhance a number of dishes and is easier and less messy to make than any other. And you can play about with leaf and root veggies and herbs to get the right one for the occasion.
Basically, we are talking about equal weights, say 250 grams, each of onions, carrots and celery, plus other vegetables you have to hand—a leaf or two of cabbage, a small head, or oddments of fennel, a chopped leek, a tomato if you want some colour, plus some parsley, a garlic clove, some coriander seeds, a bay leaf and a pinch or two of fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary and sage.
Add all these to a litre and a half of water, with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and simmer for around 45 minutes. Cool and strain the liquid. This will give you a pleasing, natural vegetable stock, for vegetarian soups, sauces, rice and pasta. It freezes well in small containers. Richer vegetable stocks may be made by frying the ingredients in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and using some mushrooms and a potato as well as the various vegetables listed above. If you don’t want to make your own, you can find various brands of vegetable stock cubes and pastes, such as Marigold, which I find OK and they add oomph to pilaffs and sauces.
Pea Soup – Easy Peasy
Good soup is so simple when you have a litre or two of stock. This pea soup is excellent. Chop a medium onion finely and fry in a knob of butter until starting to brown. Throw in 450 g of frozen peas, stir round, cover and cook for five minutes. Add a litre of stock, bring to boil and simmer until peas are tender. Whizz in a blender until creamy. Serve with a swirl of cream and some croutons (which you made earlier) in each bowl and some green decoration on top (chives, parsley or mint).
Ham and Pea: just chop some bacon or ham finely and fry with the onion, as for pea soup.
Cream of Carrot Soup
Ingredients for 4 – 6 Servings
450 g /1 lb carrots
3 medium-large leeks
50 g/2 oz butter
1 litre / 2 pints chicken stock
Freshly milled pepper
Small carton of single cream
1. Scrape and slice the carrots.
2. Trim the tops of the leeks to within 2.5 cms (1”) of the white stem, and slice away the roots.
3. Slice lengthwise through to the centre, and then wash
Thoroughly in cold water.
4. Shred the leeks finely.
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the prepared vegetables.
6. Sauté gently for 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened slightly, but do not allow them to brown.
7. Add the stock, stir well and bring up to the boil.
8. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite tender.
9. Draw the pan off the heat.
10. Purée the soup. The best and least messy way I know is a hand-held blender, otherwise in your food processor, or by hand through a sieve.
11. Return the soup to the pan, check seasoning and reheat.
12. Stir in the cream and sprinkle with parsley just before serving.
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
50 g / 2 oz butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2.5 cm / 1 inch ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tbsp cumin, ground
1 tbsp coriander, ground
1 tbsp sugar
1 kilo / 2.2 lbs pumpkin, cut into cubes
2 med or 1 large potato, cut into cubes
1 litre milk
1 litre of vegetable stock
A couple of sprigs of fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
A pinch of salt & pepper
1. Fry the onion, garlic and chopped ginger in oil and butter for 5
2. Add ground cumin and coriander and cook for a few minutes.
3. Add the pumpkin and potato and cook for a further few minutes.
4. Add the milk and stock seasoning and cook for 15 minutes.
5. Whizz or blend the soup until it is smooth.
6. Sprinkle a pinch of chopped fresh coriander or parsley and
WINE WITH SOUP
Soup generally is difficult to match with wine.
Sometimes a fortified wine is good; for example, with the Pumpkin Soup, a dry sherry or less-than-dry Amontillado would be acceptable.
With the carrot, a dry sherry. The pea I’d leave alone, maybe adding some croutons as a secondary flavour.
One soup I do enjoy in cans is lobster, and here a dry Madeira of the Sercial variety is excellent. With powerful garlicky fish soups or a Bouillabaisse a rough Provencal red won’t do any harm. I’ve even drunk Burgundy with Mulligatawny quite happily. Given just one, though, to take with soup it would be the Sercial Madeira, which is a lovely wine.