Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I realised that I have not done a recipe for ages, and it is the time for soup, so the omission must be remedied. It is a drear old day, and my heating is on the blink, so I am huddled up in three jumpers, two pairs of socks, and a huge swaddling scarf (most attractive). The only answer was to get cooking.
All the root vegetables were on special offer in the shop, and they are local and seasonal and all those good things, so I decided it would a perfect festival of roots. I just invented this today, so play around with it as you will.
First, make up a litre of whatever chicken or vegetable stock you favour. If you have a bird, and some time, I would make the stock from scratch. Today, I only had breasts, so I used my adored Marigold Bouillon powder, which runs the real thing a very close second.
Then: finely chop a couple of onions and sweat them in a glug of olive oil for about ten minutes over a low heat. I know I do not need to teach your grandmothers to suck eggs, but do make sure they do not brown or burn. You want them golden and translucent.
Take your root vegetables. This is a matter of taste. I used: two fat carrots, a parsnip, and half a neep (also known as swede, or rutabaga). I did consider a small turnip, but thought it might add a jarring note of bitterness, so decided against. I did not use any potatoes either, but a good waxy one with a firm yellow flesh would not go amiss.
Chop them all up into small cubes. This takes a bit of time, but it is worth it; you do not want great vulgar lumps.
Add a pinch of saffron and a pinch of dried chillies to the onions; stir about a bit; then throw in all the vegetables. Add the stock. Cook over a medium heat for about half an hour to forty minutes. You want everything nice and nursery soft, but not annihilated.
If you have cooked your chicken from scratch for the stock, just strip the meat off and add as much as you want at the end. If not, poach a couple of breasts, very gently, for about fifteen minutes. I did this in Marigold, to add extra flavour, with a bay leaf. Tear the flesh and add to the soup. The tearing is quite important; it gives a much better texture than chopping, for some reason.
Finally, and this is very important, add a good handful of very finely chopped parsley. This is partly for aesthetics - the flecks of green look so pretty - and partly to add a little fresh flavour. It makes a disproportionate difference to the finished article. I am a huge believer that the secret to good home cooking is not immaculate technique, or abstruse French knowledge from the Escoffier school, but the insistent taking of pains. Thought and care, thought and care, I recite to myself. The parsley epitomises this, for me.
Check for seasoning. It may need some sea salt, but no pepper, because you have the mild heat from the chillies.
And there you are. Wonderful, comforting winter soup, with almost all the food groups represented.
A final note: for those of you who went, like I did, to those kind of educational establishments where they boiled and boiled and boiled the neeps until they were the colour of old boots, and then mashed them into a horrid mush with lumps, and who are still haunted by the memory of it, I do recommend giving them another try. Cooked with love, as in this soup, they are a fine vegetable, unfairly traduced by generations of ruthless school cooks. I do admit this is a bit rich, coming from me, since I still cannot look even the most tender piece of calves' liver in the eye, due to the memory of grey, gritty school liver, with its horrid tubes and hideous, grainy texture. But I have learned to love the neep again, which is a tiny step forwards.
Pictures of the day are not awfully good, on account of the dullness of the weather, and the fact that I seem to have slightly mislaid my ability to focus. But still. Nobody's perfect.
With added lichen:
Slightly pointless branch:
Compulsory blurry action shots, which I cannot resist, on account of the ears and tails sticking straight up in the air:
More ready for close-up:
I can never make skies come out awfully well. We get some tremendous Turneresque cloud action here, most especially at sunset, and I stand and gawp with my mouth open, but when I get home and look at the pictures they always look mundane and generic.
Finally, today's hill, slightly out of focus, against a relentless blank sky:
Thank you so much for yesterday's incredibly kind birthday wishes. I felt quite invigorated today, after so much niceness, and filled with resolve for my 45th year. (It will not last, but I am making the most of it while it does.)