… I truly believe that making soup is an art form. You may think that throwing vegetables into a pan and adding stock couldn’t be simpler – and it couldn’t. Yet achieving that balance of flavours and yielding a tasty soup that delivers in every spoonful should not be something to be dismissed as basic. Soup can be many things to many people. The start of a meal – the prelude to a well thought-out menu that could instantly ruin the balance of the whole if not subtly developed, much like the first chapter in a good book, to tease the tastebuds into what’s coming next. Some will eat a bowl of soup as the meal itself, a chunky, beefy broth that fills you up and some turn to soup as a source of comfort – a hug in a bowl on a cold evening. For me soup is both formal and informal. My mum (who by the way makes the best soup in the world) would always serve soup as a first course at dinner parties and Friday Night Dinner. It was the special start to the meal and meant that we were sitting down to something special and with meaning… but soup can also be so informal… a mug of tomato soup to warm your hands on Bonfire Night or a steaming bowl of chicken soup and kneidelach brought to your sick bed by grandma, guaranteed to make everything better.
And soup is also a great marker of the seasons. Many think that soup should be the reserve of the winter months but these people have clearly never tasted a chilled leek and lemongrass vichyssoise eaten on the lawn whilst the bees buzz around your head and the whack of cricket ball against willow can be heard in the distance or a crab and sweetcorn chowder on Pier 37 whilst the Californian sun glares down on the boardwalk. The cooking of soup also (and obviously) greatly effects the taste. If you’re using fresh, seasonal vegetables then keep the saute process to a minimum but don’t neglect this process. You’re not making a smoothie, you’re making soup and the initial gentle saute will bring out the vegetables natural flavours. Also don’t boil the stock once it’s added. Let it simmer gently. For a summer soup with fresh ingredients I tend to let it simmer for no more than 15 minutes and then take it off the heat but leave it in the pan to cool before blending. If it’s the winter or i’m using harder root vegetables I tend to let it cook for slightly longer or even roast the veg first before simmering in stock…. There is also the conundrum of how to serve your soup. Should you leave it chunky or blend to creamy smoothness? Whilst these decisions don’t quite leave me lying awake at night I do often have the debate with The Viking who likes to see his vegetables floating in the broth and I prefer a smooth blended, velvety spoonful that captures the full ingredient list in every drop.
leek, cauliflower and asparagus soup
this is one of my favourite Spring soups. It celebrates the glory of the all too short British asparagus season and also proudly heralds the end of the British leeks season. It’s a twist on a classic leek and potato but the potato is replaced by the carb-friendly cauliflower which is one of those vegetables that simply excels in a soup, particularly when blended. It becomes thick and unctuous and seems to bind all the other vegetables together without dominating. I’ve been a little sneaky and added a large handful of strong cheddar but it works so well in this bowl as normally I would add milk to the stock when making a leek and potato so the cheese here does a similar job of bringing out the natural creaminess of the vegetables. I’m serving it chilled with a little Fage Greek Yoghurt but it works exceptionally well as a warm soup too, maybe with some garlic croutons. I like my summer soups to be very lightly fragranced with herbs so they really are part of the overall notes of the blend rather than dominate but if you like your herbs to pack a punch then feel free to add more. This soup serves 4 – 6
- 1 large white onion – finely chopped
- 4 chive stalks (flowers removed and saved for garnish) – finely chopped
- 2 large leeks – finely chopped
- half a head of cauliflower – chopped
- 7 stalks of asparagus – chopped
- 1 twig of lemon thyme – leaves removed and chopped
- 50g strong cheddar – finely grated
- 1 litre good quality vegetable stock such a Marigold Bullion
in a large pan, melt some butter and olive oil – leeks LOVE butter so be generous here and once melted throw in the onions and chives and let them soften gently in the butter for about 5 minutes, then throw in the leeks. Stir them well so they’re totally coated in glistening butter and oil and then let them saute gently for another 5 minutes, then throw in the herbs, seasoning, cauliflower and asparagus, place the lid on and give it a final five minutes for everything to soften
add the stock and let it very gently bubble away for 15 minutes, then take it off the heat and allow it to cool till it’s warm at which point you can blend it with either a stick blender or a stand blender. Once smooth stir in the cheddar and you’re ready to serve.
eat and of course, enjoy!