Saturday, 10 October 2009

Back to the comfort of soup

Soup, soup, glorious soup!

There really is nothing like a good soup for comfort eating – and it’s a deeply satisfying dish to make, too.

As a chill has crept in during the week, I set off for Broadway market this morning with firm plans for making leek and potato soup. This is no Vichyssoise, the chilled soup (which was probably not actually created in France at all, but by one Louis Diat, a chef who hailed from Vichy and worked in the Ritz-Carlton in a New York), but a rather different beast.

First, because it’s served hot, and second, because The Other Half doesn’t really like pureed soups, preferring them on the chunky side (apart from tomato. And any other exception that he suddenly decides on).

So for my version – which is really more of a potage parisien (the hot, pureed version is a potage parmentier, after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the Frenchman who promoted potatoes in that country) – take a couple of leeks and slice them finely. Chop an onion and a couple of sticks of celery, plus a few cloves of garlic.

Pop it all into a large saucepan with some melted butter and soften gently. This can take anything up to 30 minutes, but you don’t want to rush. You can add a little olive oil to help ensure the butter doesn’t burn, if you want.

Once that’s done, add a large peeled and diced potato, and chicken stock to cover. And simmer gently until the potato is completely cooked. Take a potato masher to the mix carefully and just break up things a bit.

Season with salt and lashings of freshly ground black pepper and then, after it’s been off the heat for a few minutes, stir in some double cream – around half a cup for this sort of amount. Then reheat gently and serve. Scrummy.

I started making soups a few years ago – or to be more accurate, I started making French onion soup. It has only been in the last three years that I began to try other soups.

It won’t be long now before it’s cold enough to cook up an erwtensoep – a Dutch pea soup, that includes pork, smoked sausage, dried green peas, leek, celeriac and carrot. Fabulously warming, I had the pleasure of tasting the real thing in freezing Amsterdam at new year, where you frequently find it sold with a glass of glühwein to chase away the cold.

There are plenty of other versions of pea soups around the world.

My mother never made soup – it was something that was decanted from a tin and simply warmed gently in a pan. But one of my favourites was pea and ham, a British classic.

It’s fascinating to discover different versions of dishes from other countries – in Germany, the equivalent of pea and ham soup is Erbsensuppe, while there are also slightly different versions throughout Scandinavia.

Pea soups have been around since antiquity – there’s even a mention of the dish in Aristophanes’s The Birds.

But wherever they come from and wherever they’re cooked, such soups – like soup in general – is a universal comforter. And perfect for the cooling, darkening days of autumn.

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