therapeutic soup, and the importance of a good casserole dish

10 December 2012

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The fact that I have made this soup twice in two weeks probably speaks volumes. I plucked the recipe at random from the Leon: Ingredients & Recipes cookbook, but since I was short on time and didn’t fancy a walk to Waitrose in the cold and dark (English winter, be praised), I substituted some of the ingredients and it worked a treat. My bastardised version appears below.

And just a word on your soup pot: it is of the utmost importance that you have one that you take pleasure in using, such that every time it is called into service, it enriches the cooking experience. If it also invokes some happy memories, so much the better. Ideally, your favourite pot should either be a family heirloom or something that someone very special has bought for you. One of mine was lugged all the way back from the States and is frankly the best ‘I’ve just been on holiday’ gift I am ever likely to receive; I cherish that effort and thoughtfulness just as much as the pot itself, which is beautiful indeed. Christmas is coming – add one to your list now. Worst case scenario, save up and buy one for yourself and call it an investment. Even in my Nightmare Kitchen*, I find room for two Le Creuset pots. Ok, that’s not strictly true…one of them lives on a bookshelf just outside the kitchen. But you get the point. Priorities, people.

You need plenty of time to cook up this soup – that’s part of the therapy – making it perfect for lazy weekends or duvet days.

*This is exactly as it sounds – the complete opposite of the Dream Kitchen so many of us aspire to, with its surfaces aplenty, a panoply of whizzy gadgets, French farmhouse table to seat eight for all those terribly upper-middle class kitchen suppers, fabulous lighting, and, above all, a place for everything. My current kitchen is lamentable, but I shan’t go into that now for fear of bringing on the urge to put my head in the (horrible) oven.

Good Soup for a Bad Day, adapted from Leon: Ingredients and Recipes

2 free range chicken legs (skin on)
2 large carrots, one left whole and the other chopped into 1cm dice
2 sticks of celery
2 medium onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 bay leaves
300g closed-cup (or other) mushrooms
160g teeny tiny dried pasta shapes (the original recipe calls for pearl barley)
1 heaped tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper, plus 6-8 whole peppercorns

Put the chicken legs into your pot, along with the whole carrot, celery, half the sliced onion, half the garlic, two of the bay leaves and the whole peppercorns. Prise the stalks from the mushrooms and throw them in too. Cover with 1.5 litres of water and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down until the stock is just steaming. Put a lid on and leave to cook for about an hour.

After half an hour or so, fry the remaining onions in the olive oil with the rest of the garlic, finely chopped, and a dash of salt and pepper. When the onions are meltingly soft and golden (about half an hour), add the diced carrot and the other two bay leaves, then pour in the stock through a strainer and bring to a simmer. Discard the stock vegetables, or purée for another day’s soup base, and put the cooked chicken aside to cool. Put a lid on the soup and leave undisturbed for a further hour.

About 10 minutes before you want to eat, slice the mushrooms, melt the butter in a frying pan and when it’s almost turning brown, chuck them in. Cook the pasta for about 6 minutes in boiling water until al dente. Fish the bay leaves out of the soup.

Remove the skin from the chicken, shred the meat and add it to the soup. Drain the cooked pasta and add that too. When the mushrooms are just starting to go crispy, sprinkle the dried tarragon over them, stir, and then add the whole lot to the soup.

Check for seasoning. Add a little more hot water if the soup seems too thick. Eat with hot buttered toast or crusty bread, and feel your bad mood evaporate.

Serves 4.

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