Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Today I am thinking of elemental things, mostly, as it turns out, carrot soup. I just made some for my mother, and it was the best soup I had produced for a long time. I did nothing special, so it took me a while to work out what had made the difference. I don't want to sound foodie and poncy, but I'm afraid it was: I used real stock.
I know I am quite cavalier about recipes. I often say, oh just throw in some Marigold Bouillon powder, and you will be perfectly fine. It is true that Marigold is the best stock powder by a country mile, and I will not use anything else, and I struggle to remember what I did before it was invented. There is no shame in using it, should you not handily happen to have a huge jug of chicken stock just waiting for you in the fridge. However, it is salutary to be reminded every so often that it is not the real thing.
People get slightly panicky about stock. They think it is the province of the domestic goddess, the kind of woman who somehow has time to arrange flowers and strip floorboards and darn cardigans and, oh I don't know, crochet an entire outfit in her spare time. I don't bloody have a bouquet garni in every cupboard, you might say, in exasperation. The lovely thing I have remembered this week is that all you really need is a good bird and some water.
People talk a lot of herbs and peppercorns and various root vegetables, but if you are short of time and ingredients, all you need to do is put a free range chicken in a pot, with an onion, and simmer for an hour and a half. If you have a bay leaf, so much the better. Take out the chicken, strip off the meat, which you may then use in soup, or a pie, or anything else you fancy. This week, I had some of the poached chicken with leeks and buckwheat, which was delicious.
If you are feeling particularly thrifty, which I am, you can put the carcass back in with some more water and make a second batch of stock. Season with a little sea salt, and you are done. Some people like to reduce the stock for a deeper flavour, which simply involves boiling it down for half an hour or so. It takes hardly any effort, just a little time, and is so many millions of miles more delicious than anything bought from a shop that the rewards are beyond compare.
Once you have the beautiful golden broth, all you need are a few carrots, another onion, and twenty minutes, and you have the finest, simplest soup known to woman. I roughly chop everything, cover in the good stock, simmer until the vegetables are just soft, add a good gloop of grassy olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, and liquidise until velvety. Sometimes I add the merest hint of dried chilli, for a little oomph, but there is no need to play about with any fancy herbs and spices. I never understand the mania for coriander, which I think does not really belong with a carrot at all.
That's it. It's the perfect autumn dish. If you wanted to show off, you might make some lovely croutons with sourdough bread, and maybe add a scatter of very finely chopped parsley, for a final aesthetic flourish. (The green looks very fine against the orange.) And there is a soup to set before a queen.
Pictures of the day are in honour of the simple things:
Moss and lichen:
The stone wall, of which I never tire:
My resurgent eucalyptus, an awful long way from its native Australia, but battling on regardless:
A simple purple sage:
The rose hips:
And, astonishingly, the lavender, which should really not thrive in this climate at all, but which is still flowering:
Finally, a little sheer canine pulchritude to see you through the weekend:
I was lucky to have some very fine carrots in my possession today, fresh and fat and bursting with carrotty flavour. Should you have a few older or sadder specimens which you would like to use up, I have found that if you add a dash of tomato puree to the soup just before you liquidise it it will amp up both the flavour and the colour, and compensate for any mildly sub-standard vegetable. This is a very naughty cheat, so obviously you should not reveal it to anyone.