Thursday 14 July 2011

Why isn't soup sexy?

This week I ordered a chilled watercress soup (not the one above) in a smart London restaurant. Nothing remarkable about that you might think but in fact it's an all-too-rare occurrence. So rare in fact that they clearly didn't know how to make it. Blending it with cucumber rather than with some sweated off onion and potato, chicken or vegetable stock and a dash of milk or cream, resulted in a dark green pool of what looked - and I suspect tasted like - pondweed.

So why don't we see soup more often? It's great for restaurants - a cheap and easy dish to make and good for lunchtime customers who want something light to eat too.

The French have always appreciated soup more, as a way of keeping down the cost of a fixed price menu - this picture was taken a couple of years ago at a Parisian bistro called Les Papilles. But now restaurants seem to want us to go for starters for which they can charge almost the same price as a main course.

I suspect many of us take the same attitude at home, preferring fancier, flashier starters instead of one that could really keep down the cost of a meal - and be made ahead rather than at the last minute. When was the last time you had soup at a friend's house - or served it at your own?

Anyway here's my watercress soup recipe, first published in the Daily Mail back in the early '90's which I remember feeling very proud that my local watercress grower stuck up on his wall. (It is of course much better to buy watercress by the bunch rather than pre-washed in a packet.)

Easy watercress soup
Serves 4
1 large or two smaller bunches of watercress
2 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 medium to large mild onion peeled and chopped or a large leek, trimmed, washed and sliced or half a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1 medium floury potato, peeled and finely sliced
About 600ml chicken or vegetable stock
A little creamy milk or double cream (optional, but nice)
Salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon

Wash the watercress thoroughly, chop off the stalks and roughly chop the leaves. Heat a saucepan or casserole and add 2 tbsp olive oil and a small slice of butter. Add a chopped onion and cook for 3-4 minutes then add a finely sliced medium sized potato, stir, cover the pan and cook on a low heat for another five minutes or so. Add the watercress stalks and 600ml chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes are almost cooked (about 10 minutes) Add the chopped watercress leaves bring back to the boil, cook for a couple of minutes then take off the heat and cool slightly. Pass the soup in batches through a liquidiser until smooth then return to the pan and reheat gently without boiling. Add milk or cream if you want to thin the soup or give it a creamier texture. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a small squeeze of lemon juice. You can serve it hot, warm or cold. I prefer the former.


verity said...

But where can you buy watercress in a bunch?!

Fiona Beckett said...

Farmers' markets. Old-fashioned greengrocers. Watercress growers if you're lucky enough to have one near you. They really have so much more flavour.

Viviana said...

I totally forgot about watercress soup. I think your recipe will be on the menu for next week. I do make a lot of gazpacho in the summer. It is cheap to make with the seasonal veg, low in calories and refreshing.

Ailbhe said...

Fiona you need to go to Trinity in Clapham they do the best soups ever. Recently had a pea and mint w fresh ricotta that I loved, loved, loved. Always great textures to their soups and depth of flavour (I know I do the illus for them but this is unbiased view). Love Les Papilles soups too and the theatre of their serving - v like Trinity!

Fiona Beckett said...

I love gazpacho, Viviana but unfortunately my husband doesn't :(

Keep meaning to go to Trinity @alibhe but haven't yet managed it. If I do I'll have the soup!

Robert said...

Soup is sexy. I love soup preferring home made to shop bought. It's so simple to knock up a soup with ingredients and stock. If you have a stick blender. All the better for making smooth soups. I prefer thick potato based soups which keeps tummy rumbles at bay.

Fiona Beckett said...

Potato anything is good in my book, Robert!