I love soup. Warming, nourishing, easy to make and very useful for using up bits and bobs in your fridge, it’s a very useful addition to any cook’s repetoire. Some soups are just a delicious dinner and rarely thought of again, but some are classics that end up defining a nation and becoming famous outside their home. Vichyoisse, gazpacho, tom yum, minestrone, we all know and love them. But one that deserves to be on that roll call is the Portuguese staple caldo verde or ‘green broth’.
I adore sweetcorn in soup. I love those corn soups thickened with egg in Chinese restaurants and every year when the cobs are in season I make the divine chicken and sweetcorn soup from the first Leon cookbook, all sweet with corn and sticky with marinaded chicken. But this year I had branched out a bit and been using the first ears for salsa. I’d roasted them on the barbecue til smoky and tossed them with scallion and avocado and lots of lime and watched my dinner guests not scrap over the last spoonful.
Making the most of my glowing coals last weekend, I did some sweet potatoes on the embers and charred as much corn as I had in the house, setting it all aside for a less sunny day when I wanted the flavour of summer. It didn’t take long and by Wednesday I needed to be reminded it was August and turned my attention to the leftovers and immediately thought of a summer soup…
Bacon and corn are natural bedfellows, but I wanted this soup to be easily meat free if you baulk at battered bacon or don’t want to use chicken stock, so the bacon tops it and the stock can be vegetable based. I’d top it with avocado in this case and add some hot sauce to the soup.
Blackened corn chowder with battered bacon (serves two)
- 2 ears sweetcorn
- 2 orange fleshed sweet potatoes
- 2 scallions
- 200ml stock
- 100 ml milk
- 4 rashers of streaky bacon
- 50g self raising flour
- 50g rice flour (or all self raising if you don’t have rice flour)
- 150ml ice cold sparkling water
- pinch cayenne
- milk to cover
- oil for frying
First blacken your corn. The best way to do this is roast them over the barbecue, but you could parboil the ears and then pass through a gas flame or under a smoking hot grill until charred in places. Leave to cool until you can handle the corn and then strip the kernels off with a sharp knife.
If you are using vegetable stock, chop the ears in half and simmer in with your veg to make a super corn-infused stock for the soup.
While that’s doing, cut your bacon rashers in half across the way so you have twice the number of pieces and then cover them with a bit of milk. This will help the batter stick to the bacon and not just slide off in the hot oil.
Chop your scallion and sweat in a bit of oil. If the sweet potato is raw, chop it small and sweat too. Then add in the corn and just cover the veg with stock (you may need less than the amount stated) and simmer until everything is tender. Then take a third of the soup out and blend the remaining, adding the milk as you do. Add the chunky third back in and warm the soup gently.
Put your oil on to heat and make your batter by combining the two flours and the water and cayenne to make a thick, but not solid batter. The rice flour and sparkling water will make the batter very light and puffy, making sure the rashers cook quickly and without becoming shatteringly crisp. Lift the rashers out of the milk and into the batter and then into the oil. The batter puffs and spits slightly but a minute each side should do it. Drain on kitchen roll.
Serve bowls of warm soup with two rashers of bacon on top. The soup is sweet with the veg and the salty slightly spicy bacon cuts through it beautifully. Everything tastes so summery and the bacon is amazing. Cooked til tender enough to split the rasher with a spoon’s edge and crunchy with batter, you’ll want your bacon deep fried every time, not just when the sweetcorn is in season!
I am not the shopping fiend I used to be. I can spend all day trekking up and down the West End and come home with nothing to show for it but slightly raised blood pressure and sore feet. But occasionally when I’m out I still make impulse purchases, which explains why last week, I came home from ‘just nipping out’ with a bag of pig’s trotters.
Dazzled by their cheapness and pinkness, I couldn’t quite resist even though I had no idea what to do with them. Then inspired by a conversation about soup with Mister North, I remembered this mouthwateringly porky potage in the shape of erwtensoep or Dutch split pea soup. Thick as a plank and designed to be packed with piggy goodness, the pig’s trotters would make the perfect base.
Well known for their tendency to toward the gelatinous (and good for them. The jelly in a pork pie is the best bit) I figured something as absorbent as a split pea could take the risk and it would simply thicken everything up nicely if the stock seemed a bit gloopy.
I was also swung towards this soup by the addition of celeriac. Another impulse purchase back in the summer at Homebase saw me buying ten tiny celeriac plants in a tray. I planted them out, expecting only about a third of them to take. Fast forward six months and my patio is a convention of celeriac. All ten are thriving. I have a forest of leaves and a lot of celeriac needing eaten. Adding some to the soup was a start.
I began the prep with the weirdest bit and gave the trotters a shave with a spare and unused Bic razor. Not only are they quite pink and unnervingly delicate with their little nails, pig’s trotters are quite bristly. These were Tamworths and the fuzz was decidedly auburn. Much and all as I love red hair, I don’t want it in my dinner…
Trotters attended to, I turned my attention to the veg, trimming, peeling and cubing. Nothing difficult, just a little bit of time and effort. In went a rather sad looking leek, a few carrots, the whole small celeriac, an onion or two and a good handful of celeriac leaves for depth. I basically halved the amounts in the recipe above. I layered half a cup of split peas on the bottom of my Le Cresuet, then put the trotters on top, along with a spare rib pork chop. You’d add in the pork ribs and the bacon about now if you had them.
Then pile your diced veg on top, adding the other half cup of the split peas to the top. The meat will be hidden and it’ll look like pure vegetable and pulses. I added a few leftover stock ice cubes from the freezer which I think might actually have been pheasant. You always seem to get a dead pheasant in Dutch still lifes. I figure it couldn’t go amiss. I then topped it all up with 3 cups or 750ml of cold water and brought it to the boil before turning down to a simmer and leaving well alone for about an hour. No stirring, no poking, no peeking. Just leave it and get on with life.
An hour later take the lid off and see how the water levels are. You’ll want to check the texture of the stock and loosen it up a bit if it looks too thick and wobbly. I added a splash of water and then left it for another two hours or until the peas had softened and swelled and started to break up. Don’t cook it until they are total sludge. When you leave the leftovers overnight, the peas will soak up the remaining liquid and thicken and if you overcook you’ll be left with concrete not soup. Fish the trotters out and discard (I had enough skin and gristle with the tail). Give the peas a quick chivvy with the potato masher to thicken everything. Marvel at how a bog basic pork chop has become soft strands of loveliness and get stuck in with your spoon.
I was aware that pork and pulses are a good thing. I was expecting to like the combo in this bowl of soup. I wasn’t expecting to fall completely in love with split pea soup. But one mouthful and I was smitten. Rich with sweet porky flavour, it was bursting with taste and both the stock and peas gave it a suprisingly silky texture. It was fantastic. I practically licked the bowl clean and wanted a second helping, but wow, this soup is filling. I compromised by having it for breakfast next day.
Embrace this sudden cold snap and make this soup immediately. Use any pork on the bone to make a stock or take the challenge and buy some trotters for you instead of the dog. Add bacon, use up some smoked sausage, throw in some chorizo, use the leftover stock from doing a ham, the choices are endless. Just make sure you keep it porcine and it will reward you with being easy, cheap, healthy and filling. I impulse purchased some pork ribs today so I can make it again immediately…
Ah, how I love the simple, comforting nature of a good home-made soup on a cold day. As the mercury’s plunged again this week after the unseasonal warmth over Christmas and New Year, I’ve been slipping back to the wintery cycle of roasting, making stock, and then cooking up quick and delightful vats of soup. As well as being a simple, wholesome task, it’s also a great way of using things up in the kitchen.
I rarely follow recipes for soups… you can’t go far wrong with most combinations as long as you use your taste and nose… although an exception to the rule was a fabulous Butternut Squash, Ginger and Apple soup. This was from my favourite Parlour Café Cookbook (which has just been awarded ‘Best First Cookbook in Scotland’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards… congratulations!) and was sweet, velvety and savoury all the way. Generally though, I make it up as I go along, but when the results are really good, I do note them down… so here are a couple I’d like to share.
One lazy Sunday lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, when it was freezing outside and the kitchen windows were all steamed up, I decided we needed some warming soup. We’d had a gloriously rich evening meal the night before, so something a little more simple was the perfect foil to this.
I’d bought one of those cute wee striped squashes around Halloween, and it had sat patiently on the sideboard, imploring me to use it in something. Squashes are great emergency food, lasting for ever. Today was its calling, so I cut it into eighths, and placed it and the florets of about half a cauliflower head on baking tray, drizzled some olive oil over the top, and placed it in a mid-temperature oven (the oven had already been on for a spot of baking a quick wheaten bread.)
Cauliflower’s been making a comeback in Mister North’s kitchen recently. When we were kids cauliflower only came in two ways: boiled (normally something we’d have at our granny’s) or as cauliflower cheese. I loved both, but it’s a veg which I realised I’d been sorely neglecting when the Hairy Bikers shone a spotlight on the humble cauli in the first series of the Great British Food Revival. I’d made a cauliflower purée the night before, so had a spare half a head to use.
As the veg was lightly roasting, I sweated down some shallots in butter, then added a couple of chopped potatoes to soften. Braving the rain, I nipped out and cut a good sprig of rosemary off the bush; washed it and threw the leaves into the pan. Everything sizzled and softened – the heady aroma of rosemary oil and shallots pervading all of downstairs – and once the spuds felt soft to touch, I threw in five home-made hare stock cubes. Some cooks think life’s too short to make stock ice cubes, but for me it’s a boon to be able to lay my hands on a selection of real stock in small, easy-to-measure quantities.
By then the veg in the oven was looking and smelling pretty fine too, with the cauli florets taking on just a hint of roasted colour, so they got tipped into the pan while I cut the skin off the squash and cubed it. Stir it up, simmer it down. A good shake of smoked paprika was next, the warming scent wafting up from the pan. Finally a decent splash of double cream, and a quick garnish, using up the last of the garlic chives which had grown lackadaisically on my windowsill since late spring, added a flash of colour. I paired it up with some freshly-baked wheaten bread, still warm from the oven: just perfect for wiping the bowl clean.
A couple of days later I bought a duck from Lidl – specifically so I’d have a decent stash of duck fat for roasting veg over Christmas – roasted it simply, made a load of stock from it (which set into the most wonderful lustrous thick jelly) and enjoyed the meat in sarnies. When that was suitably diminished I used up the rest in one of my standby big noodle soups: duck, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot and spring onion, shot through with star anise and chilli.
And finally, here’s one of my favourites. When I posted this a few weeks ago on Twitter, the consensus was that it’s not worth making your own, as the tinned version is just perfect. Just add a swirl of cream or a knob of butter, and a generous helping of freshly ground black pepper. What is it? Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup… a true taste of childhood and still one of the best quick standby meals I can call upon…
Summer has taken a while to get here, but it’s all arrived at once and suddenly it’s hot enough to melt the tarmac and send you searching frantically for any way to cool one’s self even momentarily. Ice cream is the obvious answer, but if that doesn’t seem like a proper lunch, then a chilled soup is just the ticket.
Due to my dislike of peppers, I’ve never tried a gazpacho, but I figured that by taking my influence from fresh seasonal produce and chilling it, I would end up with something just as good. A quick rummage in the kitchen reminded me I had some lovely looking vine tomatoes and a particularly good bunch of celery. As celery only really come into its own for me as a cocktail ingredient, it didn’t take much of a leap to start knocking up a Bloody Mary soup.
Some celery and carrots went into a pan with an anchovy and half a Scotch bonnet for a fruity kick and both the veg and I sweated gently for around ten minutes. They softened and sweetened in that time while I used it to skin and chop some lovely ripe tomatoes. These then went into the pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a sprinkle of celery salt and a glug of tomato juice. Everything shimmered and simmered in the heat for about twenty minutes while I turned my attention to a sorbet.
I blended everything up to make a thick soup of unrivaled colour, adding a big splosh of Lea and Perrins, a delicate shake of Tabasco and some more black pepper before loosening the texture with two shots of ice cold vodka. The whole thing went in the fridge to chill down and I relaxed in the garden for a while. When it got overwhelming enough that I considered turning the hose on myself, I served the soup with a frozen stalk of celery as a garnish and literally drank in the refreshment.
The sleek sweetness of the tomato and carrot were lifted by the tickle of the Scotch bonnet and Tabasco while the icy cold vodka left a lovely mouth tingling kick behind. The mix of chilled liquid with the spice of the black pepper and cubeb-infused Sacred vodka and the savoury of the rich umami took my temperature down in the most delicious of ways, leaving me well refreshed and relaxed round the edges.
Not one to serve to visitors who have driven to visit you, there is no nicer way to chill out in the garden on a baking hot Sunday afternoon than with this super simple soup. Much healthier and more refreshing than any ice lolly around!