Unburdened By Soup
Soups, particularly of the vegetable kind, are perfect for lunch or dinner when you want a lighter meal or want to lose a bit of weight. A soup is easy to prepare as it is not exact like baking, there is no need to measure ingredients, so you can just proceed intuitively. Once you accept that, all you need to do is see what’s in the crisper of the fridge and go for it. Most soups don’t need a stock, the flavour of the vegetable(s) is enough. One of my favourite soups is minestrone which is a great way to use up remnant vegetables at the end of the week. I start by chopping an onion and adding it to the pot to sauté in olive oil. While that is gently sizzling I pull out other vegetables and chop, say a stick of celery or a carrot, by which time the pot is ready to accept another lot to mix through the softened onion. Chopped parsley, particularly the stalks, are a great aromatic addition. I might have a small piece of cauliflower, a handful of beans and one lonely zucchini to chop and add. Finely chopped garlic adds a bit of punch. Any soft vegetables, like sliced Brussels sprouts or peas, I add last with just a quick stir. Finally a tin of chopped tomatoes and a couple of tin fulls of water to rinse out the tin are added, enough liquid to cover the vegetables. The most important ingredient that will give it a bit of Italian authenticity is the crust end of a piece of grana padana or Parmesan cheese. I always save the ends of my cheese for minestrone, it gives the soup a wonderful umami flavour and it’s comforting to know that a great cheese can keep on giving, even at its end. Simmer the soup for an hour, it tastes even better reheated the next day. To bulk it out add a tin of beans or a small handful of soup pasta (very small shapes) or spaghetti broken up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Soups need not be a jumble of vegetables like this. The simplest soups consist of one or two ingredients, think pumpkin cooked in milk, seasoned and blitzed to creamy smoothness with a stick blender or parsnip sautéd in olive oil with sliced leeks, covered with water, simmered until tender and similarly blitzed. Fennel bulbs roasted with a whole head of garlic and caramelised to bring out the flavour and sweetness can then be put in pot, just covered with water, simmered until tender and blitzed. Roasting root vegetables before cooking them in water will add flavour. Then you have a huge variety of pulses to play with. Red lentils cook down to a soft creamy soup to which you can add vegetables such as kale or chard. Canned chickpeas and tomatoes can be really spiced up with harissa or other chilli mixes. Cannellini or borlotti beans cooked with onion, garlic and tomato can be made into a rich, creamy soup full of beans by just blitzing one third of the mix (pictured). There is no need for added cream to make these soups taste creamy, the starch of the beans will give it body and the flavour imparted by a cheese crust will top it off nicely. If you are uncertain what spices or herbs to add to a vegetable consult Stephanie Alexander’s book, The Cooks Companion, it lists flavour combinations at the start of each chapter and is a great guide but I would free yourself from the constraints of recipes and just cook. Soups are very forgiving.