Friday, May 26, 2006

soup season continues

A bowl of soup, a slice of bread, a glass of wine. The simple life.

Beyond boiling an egg and making toast, soup must be one of the easiest dishes to get under your belt when going for your kitchen P-Plates.

When I was 11-12 yo, going to a State school in New Zealand – there was a wonderful experiment called ‘Intermediate School’. Here all the girls and boys were taught woodwork, metalwork, art, sewing and cooking along with the usual academic subjects. We started with the egg (Delia would have been proud), next scones (I still have visions of male classmates with doughy webbed fingers) and advanced onto sweet (upside-down cake) and savoury dishes (Oakhill potatoes, whatever they were). But never soup. I look back and think that most remiss. But if it had been in our basic curriculum, what kind would it be? With soup, the possibilities are endless.

I don’t often order soup when I am dining out, unless it offers something fiddley (tom yum – all the peeling of prawns and simmering of the shells, but one day I will do it again) or beyond my repertoire (that wonderful Burmese fish soup – recipe anyone?). This is because there is something about a homemade soup, made in an old cast iron pot that takes on an essence that is beyond flavour. Or perhaps I just imagine that.

Of blended soups – orange vegetables with spices, processed with a dash of coconut milk remains a favourite. But there is something about the homogenous texture of this style that feels a bit like baby food, not a ‘real meal’. The most satisfying, vegetarian soups tend to have legumes or wholegrains to pad it out. My current favourite is a tomato based, bean soup - a pasta-less distant cousin of minestrone.

Bean and vegetable soup

Basic ingredients:
A little olive oil
Vegetable stock
1 can of well rinsed beans (or soaked and cooked, or thawed from frozen)
1 can of crushed tomatoes (preferably organic)
Herbs and seasonings of choice

Sauté onion, then garlic with a little oil in a large pot. Add whatever chopped vegetables you like (this version had sweet potato, carrots, parsnip and zucchini – but that is entirely up to you). Stir. Add the canned tomatoes (there are never any decent fresh ones in winter, but if you have a Nona who’s made you some chunky tomato sauce that would be even better) and beans (this had cannellini, but I often use kidney), then top with stock. Bring the pot to a simmer and let it cook unobtrusively on the stove til you are ready to eat. Never boil soup, if you have a temperamental stove place the pot on a heat diffuser mat. Top with stock if the waterline drops too low. Before serving add sea salt and ground pepper if required. Strew in some fresh green herbs like basil, marjoram, oregano or chives if you have them.

If you want a less Mediterranean flavour, try adding some crushed cumin and coriander seeds to the onions when you are sautéing. Use your imagination – fennel seeds today, a little rosemary tomorrow. Fresh, delicate green herbs need little cooking, while dried herbs especially seeds and bark need some direct roasting or frying to release their flavours.

Soup always tastes better the next day.

A soup as good as this requires real bread to go with it. Not the pappy, bread improver filled supermarket kind. I am not a big bread eater, but fortunately when I want it, am spoilt for choice of artisan bakeries. This time it was a Natural Tucker sourdough, rye casalinga, toasted with some freshly made herb butter.


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Anonymous Laura said...

Why is it bad to boil soup?

7:21 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I guess it's the difference between massaging the vegetables and thumping them with the mallet :)

10:20 pm  

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