You will notice if you have visited this blog before, that I make a lot of soups. I always think that if you have 3 tired looking vegetables staring at you, soup is the ideal thing to make. Nothing else springs to mind for creating maximum yield from humble beginnings, a bit like the sermon on the mount.I find it hard to believe people ever buy soup but the supermarkets seem to be doing a brisk trade in them.
Occasionally I fancy a thickish soup, creamy without necessarily containing cream, in those instances I blend either some or all of the soup, occasionally adding a little unsalted butter to produce a richer finish. At other times a broth containing tender vegetables feels more appropriate. Adding just a little potato flour slaked in a small amount of liquid will create a silky end result.
|Fresh bay is one of the few herbs I have at this time of year|
I began this soup by chopping up a bulb of fennel I had bought and promptly forgotten for what purpose. Fennel for me is a vegetable which marries very well with the flavour of orange and if I am serving it as a vegetable I braise it slowly in orange juice with butter. While the diced fennel was sweating gently in some olive oil with some fennel seeds to enhance the fennel flavour, I chopped up a leek. this is what followed:
You will need:
1 bulb of fennel
3 golden beetroot
3 sticks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
2 litres of vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika
small pinch of saffron.
the juice of 1 navel orange plus the finely grated rind
1 tablespoon of potato flour
1 medjool date (optional)
Chop up a bulb of fennel, sweat in a tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of fennel seeds, chop up the leek, celery and finely dice the beetroot. Add the vegetables to the pan and sweat gently for 5 minutes, add the garlic chopped and while stirring continue to cook for only a minute or two. Add the bay leaves, the paprika, saffron and the stock and simmer for at least an hour. When a medjool date is lying forlornly on a plate on the table, it seems sensible to chop it up and add it to the pot. The sweetness will only add to that of the beetroot.
finally add the juice and rind of the orange stirred into a thin paste with the potato flour.
In conclusion, was the soup a success? yes, a delicious warming bowl of vegetables, each retaining its unique flavour and yet all happily combined. Would I make this soup again? if I have fennel and golden beetroot, yes, but whether or not I would feel inclined to tweak it I don't know. I am already thinking ground coriander would have added something and not been out of place. Oddly the single medjool date added just the element of sweetness needed, I have no idea whether or not 2 would have been too much.
The thing is, cooking is something we all learn to do, we rely on recipes to get us started but if we are to have any future in cooking we all need to learn by understanding how and why ingredients work. The chemistry that happens between eggs, flour, butter and sugar for instance is hugely dependent on quantities, but for something like soup, you can tinker with quantities, the addition of a little tomato pureé would have taken this soup in a different direction. Soup, stews, pasta sauces are all dishes which can be built, you can look at what you have as building blocks and think about what you will need to make it hotter, brighter, richer, smoother, more rounded. Sweetness can come from far more than sugar, the obvious addition of a date in this recipe provided a subtle sweetness, but then caramelizing onions slowly will also serve the same purpose to some extent. Ingredients will deliver the goods if you begin by understanding how and why they affect the flavour and texture of a dish, knowing this, you can experiment with a degree of confidence and as long as you have an understanding of why something didn't work quite as you wanted it to, it's a useful lesson. I would encourage anyone to experiment by making soup, after all, popular as they may well be, commercial soups, even the ones claiming to be artisan and sold in cardboard packs don't compare in quality or cost with soup made at home.
This soup really developed overnight, the flavour is complex and delicious and the use of potato flour to transform the broth like texture to something more silky gives the illusion of the soup having a higher fat content than it actually does.