On days like today, soup is one of the few things that can really warm you and get right to the heart of the cold. We are lucky to all be sitting indoors, warm and dry whilst watching the "oh my goodness, there is snow in the south" drama unfolds on television.
There was never enough snow in the outer London suburbs when I was a kid. Mum used to commiserate with us (whilst thanking God that she didn't have to stay home from work with us too often!) and tell us stories of heavy snow, woollen stockings and long walks to school. We didn't have much truck with the long walks bit as we walked a mile and a half to school albeit in waterproof coats and poly-bag lined shoes. The snow though, we envied. As head of science at a girl's school across the Pennines, she would drive her Morris 1000 over the hills, behind the snow plough and says that she doesn't recollect a day when she didn't make it in to school eventually.
For most of this winter's cold spell, she has managed fine, living alone in Derbyshire. We managed to persuade her to come to us for Christmas after her own Christmas plans fell through. Unsuprisingly, we had to rescue her from Tonbridge station as they didn't even bother to run trains south on the day of her arrival. Right now, she is at home looking out onto about 15 inches of snow. She has gritted her paths, shovelled snow away from her garage doors and her neighbours have cleared tyre tracks down to the main road. They have gone to work at the county offices some ten miles across the moors, scarcely batting an eye-lid at the snow.
Down here on the south coast, we have had to close the bakery because the industrial estate hasn't seen a gritting truck for, well, I am not sure how long. Getting in this morning was difficult and as the snow continued to fall the tyre-tracks on the road disappeared into the soft white velvet layer. After watching a 4-wheel drive and a quad bike almost come to blows outside, we decided it was sensible to beat a hasty retreat. As the snow continues to fall this afternoon, I think of Mum and her sensible matter-of-fact attitude to the weather and think that we could use a whole lot of people like her down here, preferably running our councils!
To the matter in hand - soup! There was always a pan of soup on the go when I was a kid, but I could never get a recipe from mum, that wasn't the way she worked so that is how soups have developed with me. What is in the fridge? what needs to be used up? OK, celery & stilton soup, bacon and green pea - see how it works? I don't really get the idea of a recipe for a soup as I don't think that there are any hard and fast rules to soup-making, unlike baking, where technique and volumes matter enormously. I made this on yet another cold day and let it sit on the hob on a super low temperature (lower than a simmer) until it was wanted. By the time we got to it the flavours were rich and concentrated which balanced perfectly with the others cheesy croutons, yet still worked for my un-adorned bowl.
ingredients, use this volume of ingredients per person, making a minimum of 2 servings:
- 1 large onion
- 1 knob butter or 1 dsp olive / rapeseed oil
- 1/2 clove garlic (roasted or confit if possible)
- 1 tsp rice flour
- 1/2 pint beef stock (cubes are ok, home made even better, if you have it)
- 1/2 glass white wine
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 1 dsp (10ml) cognac
- small sprig of thyme
- salt & pepper
- caramelise the onions by adding them to a hot frying pan with the butter or oil melted.
- stir rapidly so that the onions take on a dark rich brown colour but don't let them stick or burn
- after 5 minutes, turn the heat down and add the garlic
- allow the onions to cook through until they are a soft, sweet, stringy mass (this should take about 20-30 minutes)
- sprinkle over the rice flour and stir into the onions trying to pick up as much of the caramelised goo (technical term, sorry!) from the pan
- add the stock and wine, and bring to the boil
- add the herbs and turn the heat down to it's lowest setting, without a lid, for 45 minutes or so
- gluten free bread for croutons
- olive oil or butter
- whilst the soup is cooking for that last 45 minutes, preheat oven to 180° & cut one thick slice of gluten free bread per serving
- brush each side of the bread with oil or spread with butter
- cube into 3/4" chunks
- place chunks onto a lined or greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, give them a quick shake if you remember about half way through.
- once they are golden brown and crispy take the tray from the oven and leave to cool (don't forget that gluten free bread browns more quickly and suddenly than wheat bread)
- pre heat the grill just before the soup is ready, and find some heat proof bowls to serve the soup in
- when the soup is ready, bring it back up to the boil, add the cognac
- put a serving in each bowl, sprinkle some croutons over then follow with a good thick grating of cheese
- pop under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly (keep a close eye)
- remove and serve immediately