Simply soup

For all my grand entertaining, one of my chief pleasures is a bowl of soup. Soup is infinitely adaptable, economic to make and cheering to the spirit. As I write, I'm watching snow melting outside; the world is cold, wet and miserable, but I have a bowl of wonderfully flavoursome roasted tomato soup to look forward to. It'll warm me up like a blanket around me or a hug from a well-upholstered relative.

Tinned consommé, "dollied" with savoury custard shapes
Soups can be made to seem very fancy, or even decadent, if you want to put on a show. (Think how often you've seen contestants on Masterchef presenting the judges with a crystal-clear consommé to show off their skills.) They make a perfect starter for dinner parties, because they can be done hours or even days in advance and simply warmed through on the last minute and finished with a flash of chopped herb or a splodge of cream. I once found a recipe for a soup finished with foie gras and marinated cranberries. Although it was a rich and wonderful opener for my Christmas dinner, at its heart was a really simple onion broth. All the luxury was in the finishing. It's a process my friend Chris calls "dollying" - taking something simple or cheap and making it look and taste fabulous. If you haven't the skill or patience to make clear consommé, then, simply buy a couple of cans from the supermarket and "dolly" it with a few finely chopped veg or herbs, a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of the bowl or some tiny pasta stars.

Consommé Aurore: tinted red with tomato puree and with a few tapioca pearls added for body

A Russian soup with veal kidneys and pickled veg
If, like today, I'm making soup for lunch on my own, it doesn't have to be posh but it does need to be hearty. I love making soup with leftovers after the weekend. There's always an odd carrot or a lump of swede hanging around, and it's so simple to throw whatever vegetables need using up into a pan of stock. Potato cubes make a soup nicely filling, and the starch in them with thicken your stock slightly. If I've had a roast chicken, I'll boil up the carcass to make the stock, but instant stock is still good. You just have to be more careful with the salt.

A wild garlic soup
The basic method for making soup is the same no matter what you're making and it's incredibly simple. Take a pan of stock (this can be your lovingly created chicken bone stock, a pouch of ready-to-use beef stock from the shops or something made from powder and boiling water) and add to it whatever vegetables you want to use. Cook the veg. Add any additional flavouring ingredients, such as herbs or spices and slices of any meat, fish or tofu you want in there. Poaching like this is the quickest way to cook meat, and thin slices will only take a few minutes, but do make sure it is cooked through before you eat. Finally, add pasta, rice, barley or noodles, if you're using them, and cook these. Noodles will be done in a couple of minutes, pasta and rice will take considerably longer. You can also add a last-minute garnish in the bowl if you like.

If you'd prefer a smooth soup, leave out the grains/noodles and puree the soup in a blender. A little cream added at this stage will enhance most pureed soups. The vibrant soup in the top photo was made with a bag of frozen peas cooked in chicken stock and flavoured with plenty of chervil. It was pureed in a blender and re-heated just before dinner. Probably the easiest soup I've ever made!

Now we have the basic method, you can play around with ingredients, flavourings and garnishes. Have a look at these ideas:

  • Italian style: cook chopped cabbage, carrots and celery in beef stock. Flavour with thyme and oregano. Add some small pieces of Italian sausage and some short strands of spaghetti or vermicelli. Add a teaspoon of pesto just before you eat.
  • Japanese style: cook your vegetables in dashi stock or the water in which you have rehydrated dried mushrooms. Add red miso and a little Japanese seven spice flavouring. Add some sliced pork meat and a few raw king prawns. When these are cooked, add soba (buckwheat) noodles. Transfer to a bowl and add a handful of fresh beansprouts.
  • Thai style: Fry a teaspoon or so of red curry paste in the bottom of a pan. Add vegetable or fish stock and use this to cook your veg. Add a splash of fish sauce and a squirt of lime juice, then some slices of chicken or fish. Serve without noodles for a lighter soup, or add rice noodles for a heartier version. Garnish with plenty chopped coriander (cilantro) and a few slices of fresh red chilli
Any of the above soups can be made vegetarian or vegan by using the appropriate vegetable bouillon and either leaving out the meat or replacing it with tofu or Quorn. Rice noodles are, of course, gluten-free. Soba noodles usually contain a small percentage of wheat flour, but you can sometimes find 100% buckwheat if you shop around.

A Japanese-style miso soup with cabbage, mushrooms and soba noodles

My lunchtime roasted tomato soup is slightly different, in that the vegetables (vine tomatoes and the Italian "holy trinity" of onions, celery and carrots) are roasted in a little olive oil to intensify their flavour before they are added to the stock. Everything goes in - stalks, seeds and skins. After a short period of cooking in the stock (I used ham stock this time, but it could be anything), the soup is put through a blender and strained through a seive. This takes out all those fibrous bits from the celery, as well as the stalks and seeds from the tomatoes, leaving just delicious, intensely-flavoured soup.

Next time: Matching fine food with fine beers. (Changed from previously advertised topic.)


  1. Thanks for these. Love a good soup recipe and you make it simple and straightforward to achieve.


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