Leek and Potato Soup – Vichyssoise
The sign of a real classic is how many versions you can find. I’ve eaten so many different takes on what sounds such a simple vegetable soup, and they’re all good. Like a good trench coat, it can be posh, it can be practical, it can be dressed up or slobbed down, treated like a valuable possession or just wheeled out when needed without fanfare to do a job quietly and efficiently.
This is what I do for a lunchtime soup beloved by all the family. I like to use a chicken stock as the base but use vegetable stock if you prefer. I use bones from any chicken that we eat (and some fresh vegetables and herbs too, of course) to make a basic stock in the slow cooker so I always have a good chicken stock in the freezer, which adds a richness and fattiness to any mainly vegetable soup.
Serves 6 Timings: 1 hour, then time to cool and re-warm
Gently fry the onions in some oil until tender, add the rings of leek and fry again until you can see the green becoming brighter. Add the stock and tip in the potatoes. Bring the soup to a mild simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan as this will finalise the cooking of the potatoes right through.
When cold, liquidise, adding the milk or cream. Taste for seasoning and adjust – you will probably need some salt and pepper unless you used a stock cube which is already quite salty.
Eat cold if you like, or warm up carefully (don’t boil because of the milk in it) and eat with fresh bread or with your chosen toppings.
Packs a punch, Gazpacho does. It doesn’t leave you in the dark as to its intentions. It wants to jump up and shout, and make you do the same. It’s a cold soup, made from raw vegetables, and you can feel it doing you good, as well as waking up your tastebuds. I used to make this quite often in the summer and take it to work in a chilled thermos flask for my lunch. Apart from the aroma of garlic making it obvious what I was eating, the little moans of pleasure from my desk caused much merriment in the office. Never mind, anything that makes you feel that good at work should be encouraged.
Do make it a day ahead so the flavours can meld, and serve it as chilled as you can, as that suits it. You can adjust the proportions to your own tastes – I quite like the sharp vinegary tang, but you can reduce the amount of vinegar if you want a gentler approach.
If you have fresh parsley to hand, it’s lovely to add some towards the end of the blend so you get it rather roughly chopped, but it’s not part of the classic recipe.
For a dinner party, you can serve little chopped vegetables as a topping and let everyone choose their own, but it’s not necessary for a family lunch.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes and then at least 2 hours to chill
Put the whole lot into the bowl of your blender and add about 200ml cold water, some salt and pepper. Blend until fairly smooth. Add the parsley at this time if using.
Blend again, and taste for seasoning and acidity. You can add a teaspoon of sugar to balance the acidity, a little more salt or a little more oil.
Blend and chill until needed.
The soup will keep at least 2 days in the fridge.
Minestrone (vegetarian option)
A favourite soup, and one you can make at any time of the year, and it’ll be different but just as delicious. The constants in a Minestrone are that you need a mix of soup vegetables; onions & carrots, leeks & celery in a base broth, to which you add the flesh of a tomato and very important: the rind of a piece of Parmesan (or other hard Italian cheese). The cheesey rind melts down into the soup as you simmer it, giving a deep almost meaty flavour. It doesn’t disappear completely and after half an hour’s cooking it looks like an unattractive deep sea creature, so you take it out before serving. You wouldn’t buy Parmesan just for this; but keep the rind when you have some in the house for your pasta, wrap it up and keep it in the cheese box - it keeps for weeks and you just pop it in the soup. To this basic soup, you can add anything in season – courgette, turnip, peas, little beans, and at the end, add a handful of some green leafy vegetable – cabbage or broccoli or something, and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. It’s a real meal in a bowl.
The Italians have several words for soup, which is an idea I find attractive. A creamy thin soup is a “zuppa”. A “minestra” is a chunky soup with pieces of vegetable in it. So, a “Minestrone” is a specially chunky, even loaded soup. Because the vegetables are all chopped, do try to cut them to a similar size, it looks very smart. I have not given weights for the vegetables as it is so flexible, jut use what you have.
Traditionally Minestrone is made with a chicken broth – simple country cooking using up all the goodness of whatever meat you have to hand – but you can use a vegetable stock if you’d prefer.
If you are making this for a vegetarian friend, please note that Parmesan cheese is NOT vegetarian, as it is made with rennet from the stomach of a calf. You can buy vegetarian hard cheese in most major supermarkets and use it just like Parmesan in this recipe and others.
Serves 4 Timings: 1 hour
Fry the onion, celery, carrot and leek gently in a little vegetable oil for a few minutes to soften them. Add the stock, the tomato and the Parmesan rind and any other harder vegetables you are using – such as turnips or courgettes. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove the rind of cheese. Add the peas, cabbage and any other delicate green vegetables. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve with crusty bread.
Cold soups are a Spanish tradition. You might be familiar with Gazpacho, which is a loud, shouty sort of soup, bristling with spicy peppers, a hint of chilli and a good tang of wine vinegar. Salmorejo is Gazpacho’s more reserved little cousin, a strong family resemblance but much quieter. It’s a very simple recipe made from ingredients you might well have in your Spanish village kitchen, combining tomatoes, day old bread, olive oil and a boiled egg. It would also be a great home school day lunch, providing vegetables, calories and protein in one little bowl.
I did try making this using either a tin of tomatoes or my own home-made tomato sauce, which I keep in the freezer against all eventualities. On a blind testing, I have to report that it is really much better made with fresh tomatoes, so get the best you can find – the long plum ones are very nice. Your friendly green grocer might be able to give you some that are on the edge of being too ripe for salads but don’t go for anything too squashy.
It is often served in a small bowl (because it is rather rich and filling) with a plate of chopped toppings – again making it a great dish to offer to kids who love to choose their own selection. You can provide chopped cured meat – jamon Iberico, smoked tuna cubes, vegetables or diced egg. Spoon a few pieces of something extra on your soup and what more do you need for lunch?
Serves 4, small portions Timings: 20 minutes to make, then about 2 hours in the fridge
Toppings: jamon cubes, fresh tuna cubes (could be raw, smoked or lightly cooked), diced hard boiled egg, diced tomatoes or peppers – whatever you’ve got and whatever you fancy.
Peel the tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them, leaving for 1 minute, then taking out and running them under cold water. The skin should come off easily. Throw the flesh and seeds together into your blender and blend until smooth. Into the bowl of the blender throw the stale bread and leave it to soften for 5 minutes. Now add the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and hard-boiled egg into the blender too. Blend until finely mixed. You could push the mixture through a sieve after the blend but I don’t think you need to.
Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours to allow the flavours to meld and chill down.
Serve in small portions, and with a selection of toppings for people to choose for themselves.
Photo credit: I normally take my own photos but this time, my friend Anthony Smith has obliged with this great photo of Salmorejo in decorative coffee cups. Thanks Anthony!
Spinach and Wild Garlic Soup (vegetarian, vegan option)
The wild garlic time is nearly over, so make the most of it with a final extra. The perpetual spinach in the allotment is now bursting forth with new growth, despite the rain, so there’s enough harvest to make this beautiful green soup.
Outside of wild garlic time, you can use a couple of cloves of garlic to give that pungent background taste which complements the spinach so well.
Light and tasty springtime lunch, garnished with the white flowers.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Cook the onion gently in vegetable oil until transparent. Don’t let it brown. Add the garlic cloves if using and stir to cook. Add the potato pieces to the pan with the vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes to cook through.
Add the spinach leaves and wild garlic leaves and cook for 10 minutes.
Liquidise and check the seasoning – you might need salt, depending on the saltiness of the stock you used. At this stage you can cook and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days or freeze.
When ready to eat, warm up the soup, and add the milk if using. Don’t boil, or you will curdle the milk.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream and a lovely scattering of garlic flowers.
Celery and Squash Soup (vegan)
Sometimes an accidental combination just sings out loud. A few sticks of celery and half a butternut squash are denizens of the Monday fridge, leftovers from the weekend. But rejoice! The lightness and slight bitterness of celery balances the sweetness and creaminess of the squash and the two flavours meld like cheese in an omelette. It’s even good enough to make on purpose. It’s a great lunch time soup with a simple salad and some good bread.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Gently fry the onion and celery in a little vegetable oil until tender, 5 minutes. Add the cubes of squash and stir around. Add the vegetable stock, relish, and a little grind of pepper. You probably don’t need salt as the stock is salty enough but taste and adjust to your liking.
If you have had the oven on and you know you’re going to make this soup, you could also roast the squash cubes for 30 minutes in a medium oven with a little oil, but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for that.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then cool and liquidise. You can add the reserved celery leaves before you blend or hold them back for a garnish. Check the seasoning and serve.
Beetroot Soup (vegetarian/vegan)
Sometimes the simple things are the best, especially for lunch. Beetroot soup is sweet, earthy, friendly and really good for you. All sorts of things are said to lower blood pressure, but I understand that beetroot is among the few things to be proved to do so, other than prescribed medicines.
A straightforward vegetable soup, it’s easy to make, cheap and cheerful – who can resist eating something of such an amazing colour? Be warned, it can turn your urine pink – nothing to be worried about, just shows you have an efficient set of kidneys doing what they should do and filtering your blood.
You can cook your beetroot in a number of ways – wash the roots, remove any fibrous rooty bits and any tops and leaves (you can cook those separately like spinach), and then boil, or microwave. I prefer to roast mine when I have the oven on for something else – just wrap the beetroots individually in kitchen foil, and put them on a small roasting tin in the oven at whatever temperature you are cooking, for about 1 ½ hours, so if you are roasting a chicken, they will take about the same time. If you are making toad in the hole, just leave the beetroot in the oven for a bit after you take out the Yorkshire puds. I leave the beetroot in the oven to cool down after I put the oven off, it just makes sure they are fully cooked through and totally tender. When cool (and you can do this the day or so after) take off the foil, rub off the skin, and then use the cooked beetroot.
Serves 6 Timings: 20 minutes if using cooked beetroot.
Fry the onion gently in a little oil until tender – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the beetroot cubes and the stock and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then liquidise. You don’t need to strain through a sieve as there are no fibrous bits in beetroot (unless it's the last harvest from the allotment, in which case do please strain it!).
Warm through and adjust the seasoning – you may need to add some salt and pepper.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream if you like or plain yoghurt and some good bread.
Evocative, creamy – it feels like a holiday in California or Boston just thinking about this substantial seafood soup. There are so many recipes, the New England version which is mainly clams or the Pacific coast version which is more fishy. You can thicken the soup with potatoes or with a flour/milk mixture. I like to cook this soup for an easy weekend lunch – it’s tasty, filling but not too heavy, so you can go for a good walk with the family afterwards or have a board game if the weather’s bad, without your lunch making you drop off to sleep. I’m lucky enough to live near one of the UK’s best fishmongers (thanks, Evans of Didsbury!) so I can take my little containers down to the shop and ask for a handful of clams or mussels and a handful of fish pie mixture and get just what I want. But if you are reliant on a supermarket fish counter, don’t hesitate to ask, and don’t hesitate to substitute some types of fish for the others here. I prefer to save my smoked fish for a kedgeree rather than overpower the delicate fresh flavours but a robust smoked haddock chowder is also a classic so if you try it, let me know the recipe and I’ll use it on this page another time.
Serves 4. Timings 30 minutes.
Wash the clams well, scrubbing if they need it. Discard any that are already open. Put them in a pan of cold water to cover them plus a centimetre, and the pinch of saffron. Bring to the boil. The clams will have opened. Strain the liquid into a bowl, through a fine sieve or one you have lined with muslin – you don’t want any of the possible bits of sand in your soup. Take the clams out of their shells, discard the shells.
In a heavy pan, big enough for the whole soup (I use a Le Creuset casserole pan) fry the chopped shallots and leek for a few minutes until looking towards transparent and cooked. Add the liquid from the clams, and the potatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are starting to go really soft and losing their edges. Add the chopped fish, stir in, and keep at a low simmer for a minute or so as the fish cooks. Add the clams and the scallops if using and cook for another minute to cook the scallops. Season carefully – the liquid from the clams will have been quite salty. Add a good squeeze of lemon.
Turn down the heat and add in the cream, stirring carefully and not letting the soup heat up again, you don’t want to curdle. Add the chopped fresh parsley and serve, maybe with another slice of lemon if people want to add their own.
Fragrant and fortifying!
Lentil Soup (vegan)
This is one of my personal standbys. It’s like a warm old woolly jersey. It doesn’t knock your socks off, but it’s delicious, smooth and full of veg. It’s also easy and quick to make from store cupboard staples and vegetables you are likely to have around. On that note, feel free to switch around the veg for whatever you have – add a leek, add the leftover cooked broccoli from yesterday, or a couple of Jerusalem artichokes. None of the quantities is exact, I just use a few vegetables and a handful of lentils per portion. Eaten for lunch with a piece of toast, it gently hits the spot, or rather strokes it.
In our first lockdown, to give my Lunch Club seniors a change from cake, sometimes I took round a portion of soup (in sealed clean jam jars which they solemnly handed back to me the following week), and this was one of them. Several people asked for the recipe, which I took to mean it had gone down well. It also freezes perfectly, so you can make larger quantities and have it to hand when a bowl of soup is all that you want. You can, of course, zing it up a bit. Add some chillies – fresh or dried – or some garlic, add some fresh herbs, add lemon, or add tomatoes – not all at once, I’d say, but try what you like. You can even add some curry powder with the frying vegetables if you like your life spicy.
Serves 6 Timings – 10 minutes preparation, 15 minutes cooking
Heat a little oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the onion, celery and carrots for a few minutes until they begin to soften and cook. Add the lentils and stir for one minute. Pour in the stock, bring to simmering, add the marmite and the Henderson’s Relish. Simmer for about 10 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and any handfuls of fresh herbs you might have around.
Cook for another 5 minutes – the lentils should be very soft and mushy by now and the vegetables are well cooked. Leave to cool, then puree. When you re-heat you might want to add a little bit more liquid as it does tend to thicken up, but you can freeze without doing this, to better use the freezer space. Serve with a salad and fresh bread, or with garlic croutons.
Squash and Ginger Soup (vegan)
Squash makes the most wonderful soup anyway, and you can hardly go wrong with the simplest of recipes. This recipe is a take on one I ate in Germany in September (at the Krone in Ulm, thank you!) which has a bit more texture than a simple puree of squash and a bite more fresh ginger. The topping of toasted nutty pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil is luxurious. I am told there are health benefits from pumpkin seed oil, but I cannot vouch personally for them, I just like using a variety of plant oils in my cooking to give me a wide range of nutrients naturally, and it seems fitting to use pumpkin seed oil on a squash soup.
The grated squash gives body to the soup, you could eat this as a meal in itself. With a piece of fresh bread you wouldn’t need anything else. Simple, warming, invigorating.
Serves 6, timings 1 hour
Chop the onion and leek finely and fry gently in vegetable oil to soften, in quite a large pan. Peel the squash and cut into 1cm cubes. Add to the pan, stir to soften and begin to cook.
Peel the ginger and reserve the best, juiciest part – about ¼ of it. Grate the larger part and add to the pan. If there are stringy bits, chop them finely and add them in too – they will be liquidised later.
Add the stock to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the cubes of squash are softened - you can poke a knife through and feel how soft they are. If the squash needs a bit longer (if you bought ready done cubes in a pack they might not be fully fresh and could be a bit hard) then give them a bit more time.
While the soup is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds gently for a few minutes in a small dry frying pan. Careful, they will spit and crackle. Keep moving them about to avoid burning and when light brown, put on kitchen paper to cool.
Grate the reserved slice of pumpkin and grate the nice piece of ginger. Don’t be tempted to use the stringy bits of ginger that remain on the outside of the grater – this ginger will be eaten only very lightly cooked and you don’t want stringy bits in your teeth.
When the soup is cooked, let it cool a little and then check the seasoning – add salt, pepper and a dash of Henderson’s Relish. Liquidise the soup to a velvety puree and return to the pan.
Add the reserved grated squash and ginger. Bring the soup back to a simmer for 5 minutes, then serve with a swirl of pumpkin seed oil on each bowlful and toasty pumpkin seeds on top.
Some Changes - April 2022
Thanks to my friends and followers for your patience, and for your encouragement to start blogging again.