There is a white china bowl in the fridge, its contents hidden under a plate. With luck it’ll be buried treasure: the remains of a casserole; steamed potatoes and greens ready for bubble and squeak; a squirrelled-away apple crumble. It is a sad day once the contents grow to be some of yesterday’s pasta.
With luck, my dear old bowl will undoubtedly be full of soup whose character will have mellowed for having spent a night in the ice box. Such recipes are the backbone of my eating in January and February. The very best of them start out with an onion, a rib of celery and a few bay leaves and you will be started on a low heat, so the onions soften without much colour. I make an effort to catch the onions in the same way they turn from white to gold, when you can crush them, efficiently, against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. You can add cooked haricots at this time, or chickpeas or butter beans; borlotti and black-eyed beans, too, the sort whose water turns dark pink-brown as they simmer. Before you know it, you have dinner.
So far so sustaining, but I want my fresh, vital winter greens, too. I love to finish any soup with something leafy. Frills of kale, tiny frost-crisped sprouts or shredded winter cabbage tossed in at the end will all do. The greens will lighten a long-cooked soup such as a bright torch shining down a dark well. It really is worth remembering those cold weather greens may also make a splendid cream soup. Shred the leaves then stir in to softened onions and simmer with milk and crumbled cheese for a winter soup that manages to be both refined and rough edged at the same time.
A main-course soup, made reasurringly thick by blending an excellent third of it and returning it to all of those other ingredients.
Serves 6black eyed beans 250gbay leaves 4onion 1, largecarrot 1, largerosemary sprigs 2celery 2 sticksgarlic 2 clovesolive oil 3 tbsppotato 1, large tomato 1, large
To finish: kale or brussels sprout tops 150gparsley leaves a good handfulolive oil to complete
Soak the beans over night in a bowl of cool water. The next day, drain the beans, put them in a deep saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Lower heat, skim off any froth then add the bay leaves and leave at a gently rolling boil for an hour or until the beans are nearly tender. Always check the water level regularly. Remove from the heat, but leave the beans in the water.
Peel and roughly chop the onion and the carrot. Pull the needles from the rosemary sprigs and chop finely. Take away the leaves from the celery and reserve, then chop the celery into small pieces. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
Warm the essential olive oil in much based saucepan. When it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, rosemary, celery and garlic and cook over a low heat for quarter-hour, until the veggies are needs to soften.
Scrub the potato and cut into small dice. Roughly chop the tomato and stir it, together with the potato, into the softening vegetables and herbs. Cover the pan with a lid and continue cooking, stirring regularly, for 15-20 minutes before potato has softened. Add the beans and 1 litre of these cooking liquid.
Season generously with salt and pepper and continue cooking for half an hour until every thing is thick, rich and fragrant. Ladle one third of the mixture into a blender, process till smooth then stir back to the soup.
Pick on the kale or sprout tops, discarding whatever isn’t sparklingly fresh. Tear into pieces then dunk under the surface of the soup and leave to soften for just two or three minutes.
Roughly chop the parsley and celery leaves. Ladle the soup into bowls, scatter with the chopped celery and parsley leaves and finish with a trickle of olive oil.
The subtle eau de Nil colour darkens if you make an effort to keep the soup for tomorrow. It’s most readily useful served when it is made.
Serves 4milk 600ml stilton 200gonions 2butter 30gsprout tops 350g
To complete: butter 30gthe reserved sproutsstilton 100g
Bring the milk to the boil then remove from the heat. Crumble the stilton into the milk, cover with a lid and leave to infuse. Peel and roughly chop the onions.
Melt the butter in a deep pan and add the chopped onion. Fry gently over a moderate heat for about ten minutes until the onion is glossy and sweet smelling. Split up the leaves of the sprout tops, pick off the whole sprouts, set aside and finely chop the stems. Add the stems and combine with the onion. Finely shred the sprout tops, stir in to the onion and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly until the leaves are bright green and wilted. Add the infused milk and cheese mixture and bring almost to the boil. Ladle right into a blender and process to a thick but not totally smooth soup. Check the seasoning – you are likely to need black pepper but not salt.
To finish, slice the reserved sprouts in half and fry lightly in the butter. Toss them with the stilton and increase each bowl as you serve.
Email Nigel at nigel. [email protected] co. uk or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater