A good soup starts with a good stock. Ideally a slow simmered bone broth made with the carcass of your sunday roast with the sweet, umami tin juices tipped in and a handful of fragrant herbs. A broth that wobbles, or even sets firm with nourishing gelatin, and leaves your lips sticky with meaty goodness.
Of course, you can also make fish stock! Roast your fish with it's head on and simmer for no more than two hours with a spoonful of fennel seeds, or star anise, a good chunk of celery and some leek tops. This fish stock is a tonic for the thyroid (containing as it does, the thyroid of the fish) - use it to make fish soups, paella, curries and sauces.
Lest you think me a crashing omnivore - there are also mushroom stocks for the deepest forest flavour, allium stocks for those who just want the onion without a pain in the tummy, stocks you make with all the odds and ends of veg that didn't quite get used up quickly enough. These stocks don't have the benefit of gelatin and are not as mineral rich, but they do bring an incredible depth to soups.
Bone broths should be part of the healing journey for anyone with intolerances, bowel disorders, auto immune conditions, malabsorption syndromes, or anyone who feels their gut could use a little help. They provide an array of easily absorbed minerals (especially calcium & magnesium in meat and iodine in fish stock) and gelatin to help repair the gut wall. That old myth about chicken soup being Jewish Penicillin - I'm telling you, it's not a myth!
As we emerge from the heavy blanket of winter and it's rooty stews, I start to want something lighter, fresher and greener in my bowl. But the spring vegetables are not quite here yet and so I must make a lighter tasting soup with the hungry gap vegetables that I have.
At the end of March there are some new season carrots and purple sprouting broccoli with which to conjour a little spring - but very little else. So I cheat a little with frozen peas and some lighter roots diced up dainty and cooked quickly in a rich chicken stock, that is both light and deeply satisfying.
This soup can be altered through the year, made late winter, sweetly pink with some beets and potato or in the autumn, deeply orange with squash and peppers. In the summer, it sings with courgette, sugar snap peas, broad beans, cherry tomatoes, French beans and asparagus. Just try and keep it as seasonal as possible and use the odd frozen pea or preserved pepper to bring a kick to the leaner vegetable months.
I give it as a sort of template for you to make your own - after all, soup is just a matter of good stock and seasonal vegetables with a little protein for sustenance.
Many people say they don't actually know how to make stock. If that's you, use this simple method and you won't look back. If you don't have a whole chicken or roast joint, just save any bones you have from chicken legs, lamb chops, beef ribs etc. Freeze them and when you have enough of any one type, make some stock. You can take bones off peoples plates without fear of germs, as they are all boiled into submission by the process. It's a method rather than exact quantities.
1 or 2 chicken carcasses or 4-5 beef or lamb bones - or the bones left from any kind of roast. Include any giblets or skin that you haven't eaten.
stick of celery/carrot/half an onion/half a leek
cider or wine vinegar
If your carcasses/bones are raw, set the oven to 180C and roast them for about 30-40 minutes or until the skin and meat is starting to take on a lovely golden colour and smell deliciously roasty. Bones from a roast dinner can just go straight in the saucepan.
Put the bones, giblets and some herbs in a lidded pan large enough to take everything and leave at least a few inches on top. For herbs think about a couple of bay leaves or a sprig of thyme, some fresh rosemary is lovely with lamb - it's up to you!
Add some of the vegetables on the list if you like, chopped roughly.
Cover everything with water, but don't swamp it - just enough to cover will do.
Add a couple of capfuls of vinegar, a good few twists of black pepper and bring up to the boil.
When boiling reduce to a trembling simmer, clap the lid on tightly and simmer for 6-24 hours.
I tend to make my stock after the evening meal, allow it to simmer all evening, turn it off and leave it to cool slowly overnight and then give it a few hours the next morning. If you can't boil it again until the next evening, put it in the fridge for the day and complete the stock in the evening. Don't undercook it or the gelatin and minerals won't leach out.
When it's done, strain through a sieve into a large bowl and discard the bones etc.
I then strain it straight into glass jars, put a lid on and refridgerate when cool. When I use the stock, if I don't want to use the fat that's on top, I just scoop it into a little jar for later. You can also cool the stock in a large bowl, scrape off the fat and save it for later - it's tasty and good for you - don't throw it away whatever you do!
Hungry Gap Soup - enough for 4
This is a soup for the hungry gap between winter veg and late spring veg.
1 tsp duck/chicken fat
1 tsp butter
2 Sticks of Celery
White Part of Leek (or 1/2 brown skin onion or 1/2 bunch spring onions)
2 large or 3 small Carrots
1/2 a Celeriac (or a medium potato or 1/2 a swede)
1 cup Frozen Peas
100g Purple Sprouting Broccoli or Calabrese (chopped into chunks)
250g Cooked Meat cut into dice (Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Lamb, Pork, Ham, Rabbit, Venison etc)
750-850ml Meat Stock (Chicken is my favourite, but the stock should suit your meat)
1 Bay Leaf
Chop celery and carrots into 1cm dice. Thoroughly wash and finely chop leek or onion.
In a large saucepan, melt butter and duck/chicken fat. Add leek, celery, carrot, celeriac and bay leaf and sweat for about 10 minutes gently until leek and celery are translucent.
Add stock and bring to the boil.
Add diced meat and broccoli stems, but keep back the purple flowering tops. Simmer until the broccoli stems are just al dente.
Add peas, broccoli flowers, black pepper and sea salt to taste (if you use ham or salted stock you won't need any). Add more stock if you think it needs it. Bring back up to the boil and cook just long enough for the flowers to be al dente.
Serve straight away while the peas and broccoli are still bright green.