Many years ago, as a young man, I shared a flat with a guy called Anthony. I was best man at his wedding. We took a golf trip to Portugal to celebrate our 40th birthdays. He is, to coin a schoolboy phrase, my best friend.
I always had one issue though. It wasn’t that he had a bigger bedroom than me, or that his bathroom always smelt better than mine (I know, we had two bathrooms! The hardship of youth). My problem was soup. Anthony liked to eat soup. Soup, my 25-year-old self never tired of telling him, is old-man’s food; dinner for people who can’t chew. He also liked biscuits with milk, which is kids’ food, but that’s another story.
He just laughed at me. “One day you will understand,” he would say. And you know what, he was right. Here I am, 43-years-old, and soup is high on my list of great foods. The trouble is it always slips my mind that I love soup. I really am getting old.
It’s easy to have dry-aged sirloin steak or oven-roasted whole turbot high on your food radar, but soup, the workhorse of gastronomy, is easy to forget. Yesterday I remembered.
Yesterday: a Wednesday evening, long day behind me, nothing in the fridge. For a food blogger that’s an alarmingly regular occurrence – nothing in the fridge.
Faced with a few carrots, two red onions, a couple of parsnips, three tomatoes and a red pepper, it suddenly became blindingly obvious: vegetable soup; delicious homemade vegetable soup.
There’s something rather relaxed and freewheeling about vegetable soup. It’s not pea soup, or asparagus soup, or carrot and coriander soup. It’s just vegetable soup. You are free from the restraint of a specific vegetable, free from the worry of having the right ingredient. If you have some vegetables, whatever they are, you have a bowl of soup. Exactly the kind of stress free cooking you need on a Wednesday night.
The secret is to roast the vegetables first, to get a wonderful, sweet, caramelized edge. It works with pretty much any veg that you can scrape up from the bottom drawer of your fridge, but it makes for a meal fit for a King; even for Anthony. Here’s how:
Rob’s (and maybe Anthony’s) Wednesday Vegetable Soup
- Enough of whatever veg you find to fill a good sizes roasting tin
- 2 tsp dried thyme or marjoram
- 4 cloves of garlic, still in their skin
- 1 litre chicken stock (vegetable stock if you want to keep it strictly veggie)
- 3dl crème fraiche
- 1 handful sunflower seeds
Cut up the vegetables into golf-ball-sized pieces (if that’s not too strange a comparison). A mixture of onion, carrot, leek, a root vegetable and something sweet like pepper makes for a better result.
Put them in a roasting tray with the whole, skin-on garlic and mix together with a little olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper
Roast in the oven, at 220C, for 40 minutes
Take out the garlic and transfer the rest of the veg to a large saucepan
Add the stock and bring to the boil
Blend the mixture with a hand blender or other mixer
Pinch the garlic out of its skin and mix it in with the crème fraiche
Dry-roast the sunflower seeds in a frying pan until golden
Dish up the soup, add a blob of crème fraiche and sprinkle with the roasted seeds
Serve with warm, crusty bread if you have some