Soup for the soul

 

A dollop of basil purée makes this summer vegetable soup more luxurious, and here is a top tip for a healing
chicken broth, writes DOMINI KEMP 

MY IMAGINARY LOVE affair with Raymond Blanc is getting out of hand. I sit on the couch, whenever everyone has gone to bed, and watch the shows that haven’t bottle-necked the Sky Plus system, imagining myself as lady of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. This is probably not a healthy admission. I am married, after all. But I am suffering from a culinary crush on the man.

His latest series is as beautiful as ever to watch and his ridiculous accent, that does not seem to have mellowed after 40-odd years in England, makes him all the more charming. Or authentic. Who cares. His eyes twinkle and he’s a great chef. Plus he has a manor . . . what more could you ask for?

His pistou soup caught my eye and sure enough, it’s a winner (although I leave out his suggested peas and don’t bother with the croutons). It’s a gorgeous spring-time broth that loses its bright, Shrek-like colour if re-heated over the course of a few days. So make it and consume it, or else make the soup in one batch and just add the basil purée into bowls as you are serving it.

I was recently at a birthday dinner for a good friend. His wife is a great cook, and she made old-fashioned chicken soup complete with dumplings. It was a humble dinner that sang with good flavour.

A few days later, our youngest succumbed to a bug that was going around, so I made some chicken soup, in an effort to tame her tum. It worked a treat, therefore justifying its other name, Jewish penicillin.

This version could not be easier. One of the keys to it is rapid boiling for a minute or two, to help anything that needs to be skimmed off to bubble forth to the surface. Then, you need to turn it down really low and let it gently hover around a simmer, or even lower.

Quantities are vague, because it’s up to you what size saucepan you have at home. Needless to say, as long as the chicken is comfortably submerged in water, then that’s enough.

You don’t need to brown the bones for this. All you need is a big pot, some vegetables, herbs and a teaspoon of turmeric to help give it a gorgeous golden colour.

Raymond Blanc’s pistou soup

Serves six

Basil purée

100g basil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

100ml olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 tsp caster sugar

Soup

Good splash olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely diced

2 carrots, peeled and finely diced

1 head celery, finely diced

2 courgettes, finely diced

1 fennel bulb, finely diced

Salt and pepper

1.5 litres boiling water

2 large tomatoes, diced

Some grated Parmesan, to serve

Dip the basil leaves into some boiling water for a few seconds, then drain and rinse them under cold water until they are cold. You do this to “set” the colour and to stop it going muddy.

Blend all the ingredients for the purée together in a food processor. Chill until the soup is to be served. The purée will be fine for a few days in the fridge and the colour will stay vibrant. (It’s only when you add it to the soup that it won’t retain its lovely colour for long).

To make the soup, heat up the olive oil and sweat all the vegetables over a low heat for about 15 minutes until they are tender. Season them well. Add the boiling water and the tomatoes. Cook for about two minutes and then leave it to cool slightly. Adjust the seasoning, then ladle into bowls, and add a big spoonful of the basil purée. Grate in some Parmesan, which will quickly melt into the soup, creating a soft cheesy crust. Serve immediately.

Healing chicken soup

1 chicken (giblets removed)

Big knob ginger, peeled and sliced into thick chunks

I large onion, peeled and cut in half

3 carrots, peeled and cut in half

2 heads garlic, peeled, cloves cut in half

Few sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tsp turmeric

Salt and pepper

Few splashes of Worcestershire sauce

Fill a big saucepan to about the halfway mark with cold water. Carefully put the chicken in the pot and then add in everything else. Wash your hands well if you’ve handled the raw chicken. Put it on the heat and slowly bring it to the boil. Turn up the heat and let it bubble away furiously for about two minutes.

Turn the heat down a little, and skim any scum or impurities from the surface with a big metal spoon. Turn the heat right down and partially cover with a lid and let it simmer gently for about two-and-a-half hours.

Carefully remove the chicken into a bowl with a kitchen tongs. The chicken may fall to pieces while you do this, but it doesn’t really matter. Continue to gently simmer the soup so that it reduces down a little, but do it gently.

When the chicken carcass has cooled down enough to handle, remove the skin and discard it. Then set about removing every scrap of meat from the bones and carcass. Set aside.

Taste the soup and decide if it needs longer cooking/reducing, or more seasoning. Drain it over a colander and discard the herbs and vegetables. Pour the chicken soup back into a saucepan and either dig in straight away, chucking in the chicken pieces to warm through just before serving, or chill it down overnight, so you can sweep up the big globules of fat which appear on the surface with a paper towel. With lots of black pepper and more chopped thyme, and accompanied by buttered Matzo crackers or Carr’s crackers, this is a feast fit for kings. Or anyone who’s feeling poorly