Friday, December 08, 2006

Stone Age Soup

It may surprise some of our readers to learn that, despite being newlyweds and foodies, our kitchen in Shepherd's Bush is woefully ill-equipped. It's true that mere months ago, we were showered with wonderful culinary wedding gifts from our friends and families - a blender, an ice-cream maker - and we delighted in using them for a couple of months before we left the US. In truth, our stateside kitchen is the envy of all who have the pleasure to behold it. We're proud to have nearly every useful gastro-gadget known to man, from microplaners to Laura's beloved Cuisinart, plus a great set of dishes to boot. Alas, upon embarking on our current extended honeymoon / research adventure, we had little choice but leave all of our culinary wonder widgets behind.

Actually, as we've outfitted our temporary, bare-bones kitchen in London, it's been interesting to see which items we've deemed to be essential - a desert-island list of kitchen utensils. In addition to the service for six set of stainless steel cutlery (knives, forks, soup spoons and teaspoons), service for four set of dishes (plates of two sizes, bowls and mugs), a pair of serving dishes, and various assorted glasses from the 98p Store, we've also accumulated the following:

  • bottle opener
  • can opener
  • 8" chef's knife
  • colander
  • grater
  • 12" iron omelette pan
  • liquid measuring pitcher
  • vegetable peeler
  • 4 quart stainless steel pot with lid
  • 1 quart stainless steel saucepan with lid
  • tongs
  • spatula
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • whisk
  • baking sheet
  • 8" square cake pan
  • toaster
  • electric kettle
  • French press style coffee maker
We recently added a 10" serrated bread knife to this list when Tam confessed that his new primary criteria for buying a loaf of bread was how easy it might be to cut with a chef's knife.

As you might imagine, this limited roster precludes the accomplishment of many a kitchen task, most notably blending, pureeing and mixing (electrically, anyway). The creation of beautifully creamy vegetable soups, for example, has been made vastly more complicated by the sad, if temporary, loss of our immersion blender. But with a little ingenuity and a willingness to engage in a little light manual labor, we've discovered such tasks can be accomplished; and their completion can not only lead to a sense of connection with cooks of past, less technologically advanced ages, but can also result in some satisfying culinary results, as in this lovely winter soup.

Leek, Potato and Parsnip Soup

2 slices bacon
1 leek, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 parsnips, peeled, cored and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat large heavy pot over medium heat until hot. Add bacon and cook on both sides until crispy and brown. Remove bacon with tongs to paper towels, leaving fat in the pan. Turn heat to medium low.

Add leeks and thyme, seasoning liberally with salt. Saute for a few minutes until soft, being sure not to let them brown. Add potatoes and parsnips, and just enough broth to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Mash vegetables thoroughly with wooden spoon or fork until they are a creamy mass, then thin out the mixture with the remainder of the broth. Let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cream and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top of each serving.

Serves 4.

A couple of notes:

Obviously, the unorthodox part of this recipe is to cook the vegetables in a small amount of liquid and then add more broth later. We did this to facilitate mashing the vegetables by hand, which is much more difficult with more liquid. If you have a better-equipped kitchen, you could of course blend the whole mixture with an immersion blender in the usual way. For an extra-creamy, luxurious result, you could then put the soup through a sieve.

Also, we served these garnished with parsnip chips. If you want to try this, here is how to do it:

Parsnip Chips

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 parsnips, halved across and then sliced paper thin (if you have a mandoline, this would be a good use for it)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add parsnip slices, carefully spreading them out in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, turning when necessary, until slices are brown and crispy. Remove to paper towel and season with more salt and pepper if desired.

These are not quite as crispy as deep-fried chips would be, but they're very tasty and make a good snack!

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

LOL - you're telling my life story!! We also collected a lovely stash of kitchen equipment at our wedding in 2001 and in 2002 we put it all in storage and came over here. Seeing as the plan was always a short, temporary stay, Nick resisted buying ANYTHING. We borrowed a set of 4 pots (has subsequently been donated to us), we ate with the manky rented cutlery and crockery, we struggled with the most basic of kitchen tasks. But as the "short stay" has turned into a 4 year+ extravaganza, my bleating about kitchen stuff got louder and in the end he relented. Our collection sounds a lot like yours, with my mad addition of a second immersion blender. I just decided one day I could not live without it and the hell with what we have in storage! What it doesn't have (being an el-cheapo model) is a fooking whisk attachment. So yes, I am familiar with the sensation of burning arms normally associated with getting in touch with your 18th century culinary forefathers as you try to whip egg whites into stiff peaks! More like stiff arms!