Róisín Ingle: The Covid stone. Wear it like a badge of pride
Medical experts may not share my view, but this comfort food expert says go for it
Róisín Ingle: ‘My Monday soup is never boring, evolving as it does, into a different soup each day depending on what I throw in there.’ Photograph: iStock
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. Let’s face it, it’s been Food Month pretty much everywhere since last March. The Covid Stone, or Covid Couple of Stone if you’ve really been living it large, is more a badge of honour than a source of shame at this stage.
Pesky medical experts might have a different view, but this comfort food expert says go for it. Loosen those belts. Invest in some more of that comfy leisure wear. Carry those pandemic pounds with pride.
The Covid Stone tells you a lot about a person. It says: “Good afternoon. Yes, well spotted. I have comforted myself through these difficult times with sausage sandwiches, roast chicken with three types of stuffing, pasta made from scratch, economy-supporting takeaways, chocolate studded with hazelnuts, Yorkshire puddings and potato waffles grilled to a deep golden brown in the toaster.”
The Covid Stone says: “Yes, that’s right, I have performed seismic acts of calorific self-care involving slow-cooked shoulders of lamb and fried chicken and instant noodle sandwiches.What of it?”
'When the world is ending . . .,' said the woman behind the counter, hefting the wheel of deliciousness up to meet the wire cheese cutter
The pandemic took our freedoms but it could not take our toasted heel of the batch loaf with lashings of butter at 3am in the morning. Or sourdough if you’re in Stoneybatter.
I knew things had perhaps gone a little too far in my own pursuit of extra pandemic padding when I recently found myself queueing at the cheese counter at the posh supermarket. It was the start of this latest lockdown and not for the first time in the last seven months I thought I’d treat myself.
Out of context
“Do you have any truffle brie?” I heard myself asking the woman at the counter. The people beside me, ordering some gruyere and a bit of goat’s cheese, smiled at me conspiratorially. “I usually only get it once a year, at Christmas,” I found myself confessing. “But you know, the way things are?”
“When the world is ending . . .,” said the woman behind the counter, hefting the wheel of deliciousness up to meet the wire cheese cutter.
“Let them eat truffle brie,” I finished. We all smiled at each other in agreement. Enabling each other through the medium of cheese. It fairly warmed the clogging arteries of my heart.
When I got it home, the truffle brie didn’t taste as good as it usually does. The context wasn’t right. I wasn’t eating it on Christmas evening basking in the warm glow of the fire, surrounded by cracker debris and an abandoned Monopoly board. I realised it was simply too fancy for pandemic comfort food.
And then I started thinking about how much I love my Monday soup.
Now being completely honest, by Friday at 3pm my Monday soup can look a bit tired and emotional
My Monday soup is not fancy but it is the one constant in my lockdown repertoire. As you might have deduced, I make it on a Monday. I start by heating some olive oil in my biggest pot and then I throw in a finely sliced leek but in the absence of a leek an onion will do. I add some garlic, sauteeing away until soft. Then I throw in two courgettes, nicely diced, and after that some good bacon chopped into generous chunks.
When the bacon is cooked I add two tins of beans. Whatever beans you have. Cannellini. Butter. My preference is flagioli, a bean I never knew existed before this pandemic.
I add chicken or vegetable stock, filling the big pot up to the brim with the boiling liquid. I let it bubble away for 15 minutes before taking it off the heat and adding a generous swirl of cream.
‘It looks alive’
And that’s it. That’s my Monday soup.
But what I love about this soup, which is my lunch pretty much every day, is how the pot stays full from Monday to Friday despite it serving valiantly as lunch, an after-school snack for my daughters and occasionally, when we’re a bit rushed, dinner.
My Monday soup is never boring, evolving as it does, into a different soup each day depending on what I throw in there. It could be some delicious slivers of left-over steak. Or a tin of good tomatoes. It might be some rice from last night’s dinner. Or a spicy spoon of peanut raju. Maybe some limp spinach at the bottom of a bag. I keep the stock topped up and add whatever extras will make it sing. The soup morphs daily into a new and unexpected feast.
Now being completely honest, by Friday at 3pm my Monday soup can look a bit tired and emotional. And if someone called health and safety on me, I’m not sure I’d escape without a fine. “I’m not eating that, it looks alive,” one daughter said last Friday. I ate it anyway, before spooning the dregs into the bin.
Whatever else is going on, there’ll be a new pot of soup on the stove by Monday lunchtime.
In a world where there are hardly any constants, I’ll take mine where I can find them: on a Monday, beans and cream and bacon bubbling away like billy-oh in my biggest pot.