Today screamed A U T U M N with Lionshead snugly tucked away in a pillow of clouds. These clouds gently covering our beautiful mountains in the Mother City, signals the rain to come.
If you know me well, chances are good that I have served you a bowl of soup. The thing I love about soup is it represents so many things all in one bowl, comfort, abundance, warmth and nourishment. In fact the whole idea of Adre’s Kitchen was started over a bowl of warm soup.
Shouldn’t everything we eat bring us comfort and nourishment?
It is true that I can eat soup any day or season of the year. In summer my soups tend to be tomato based adding a summery zing to my mouth, in spring they tend to be green when asparagus and fresh peas are in abundance. But it is in autumn and winter when the oven gloves really come off and my soups can be anything from a gentle Indian inspired lentil soup, or a hellishly spicy Mexican black bean soup or a coconut concoction kissing the flavours of Asia.
The one thing that soups should not be is complicated or sophisticated, please don’t give me something delicate either, I like my soups to be uncomplicated, rustic and hearty.
Appropriately called ‘Soup Sundays’ I tend to make a ‘clear-the-fridge’ soup every Sunday, it is such a brilliant way to use those long forgotten veg at the back of the fridge and a Minestrone, Italian for vegetable soup, is just such a soup. It is completely unpretentious and adaptable with what you have at home.
Now, there are a few tricks I have up my sleeve to make a kick ass soup and I am happy to share them. So here goes, (excuse the detail but I think its worth it).
7 Foundations to a BRILLIANT MINESTRONE SOUP:
No 1: Never make less than a 2 litre portion, make 3 or 4 litres and eat throughout the week or freeze into small portions or larger ones. Instant comfort, you’ll thank yourself at some stage.
No 2: Always add finely chopped onions, leeks or a combination of both, to your veggie mix. Alliums add a soft sweetness to your soup which counteracts with the acidity of the tomatoes.
No 3: Apart from beetroot, which will give your soup a weird colour, you can use any veg here, providing that they are all cut into similar sized small blocks. Because we are working with different veggies which cook at different times, cutting them into similar sizes will help ensure they cook evenly.
Don’t forget you can also use: parsnips, cabbage, green beans, celeriac, aubergines, courgettes, radishes etc.
It is hard to talk about exact amounts here especially if we are working with a ‘veg freestyle’ principle.
For a hearty 3 litre soup a rough guide would be: about 2 potatoes, 2 sweet potatoes, 3 parsnips, 1/2 bunch celery, 4 whole tomatoes, small celeriac, 3 carrots, a few mushrooms and one aubergine.
No 4: Finely grate one cup full of root veggies, carrots and potatoes work well but any starchy veg would work. The grated veg will melt into the soup when soft. This will give your soup ‘body’ and prevent the veggies lying on the bottom and the liquid floating on the top.
No 5: Add one can of tomatoes for two litres or 2 cans for 4 litres. Tomatoes will add acidity so if you are after a ‘softer’ soup keep tomatoes limited. You can use fresh, overripe tomatoes here too. I don’t mind the skin but if you do, skin the tomatoes before adding to the soup.
No 6: Flavourings: for extra oomph tie a little bundle of herbs with some kitchen string, rosemary, parsley, thyme, bay leaves or sage works well. Leftover Parmesan rind, which I keep in the freezer, will work wonders here, if you don’t have any parmesan rind a good chunk of hard cheese would also work. It needs to be a hard cheese though. Fennel seeds work well too, add this with the veggies in the beginning.
No 7: Toppings: a drizzle good olive oil and a few grating of parmesan will be enough here but a fantastic loaf of bread is just the vehicle you need to scoop your soup, who needs spoons right?
Steps to a BRILLIANT MINESTRONE SOUP:
Step 1: in a large deep saucepan add enough good oil (extra virgin olive oil, always) to cover the base. Heat on a medium heat, we want to hear a sizzle when the veggies go in.
Step 2: add your veggies (and fennel seeds if using) , stir to combine with the oil and cook, covered until veggies are soft, about 30min. Because we are cooking a lot of veggies together they will create steam which will help the softening of the veg and also keep the pot moist. Stir occasionally by lifting the lid slowly, be careful of the trapped steam releasing and let the condensation (water) drip back into the pot. The veggies should never look dry, if it does, turn your heat down and add a little more oil.
Step 3: add the garlic and stir until fragrant – about 3 minutes. We want the garlic to cook through.
Step 4: add a tin of chopped tomatoes for 2 litres and 2 tins for anything more, stir. Swirl the used tin(s) tomatoes with a little water and add to the pot.
Step 5: add a teaspoon of fine salt and a tablespoon of tomato paste or two to the soft veggies.
Step 6: add your liquid to the soup, a good veg stock would work wonders here. I make my veg stock using my homemade veg stock paste and I will post the recipe soon. If you are making it with a cube, taste it to make sure its strong and add to the pot.
Again not being sure how much veggies you are adding, add enough liquid to generously cover the veggies. You want the soup to be able to swirl when you give it a good stir. Think soup not stew.
Step 7: now add your grated veggies and stir.
Step 8: add your flavourings, the herbs and/or parmesan rind or chunk here. I freeze all the ends of my parmesan cheese to add to bolognese and soups.
Step 9: taste your soup and season accordingly with pepper and more salt.
Step 10: let it bubble away for at least 40min or until the soup has ‘come together’ and the veggies are soft. If you feel the soup has not thickened enough you can use a potato masher to mash the veggies.
Step 11: taste your soup and give your soup a final seasoning.
Step 12: add drained one can of beans and garnish with chopped parsley.
Now we are done!
Gather the crowd, toast some good bread (who needs spoons right?), bring more olive oil and start grating some parmesan – Nourishment!
I have loads of soup recipes on my site – have a look here and click the ‘soup’ button .