Monday, October 1, 2007

Day One: Cauliflower

Topcats frenetic performance last night KO-ed any help I might have expected this morning, when a plan to meet in Sainsbury's car park at Nine Elms to get free veg from the skips at the back of New Covent Garden was abandoned. Instead, I went down to Oli's, the Turkish greengrocer down Walworth Road and spent £4.64 on a couple of cauliflowers, a great big onion and a head of celery to add to the bag of carrots had in my fridge.

My other major expenditure was £4.50 on a tub of Marigold bouillon powder from Fare Shares, our friendly local not-for-profit whole-food anti-shop (you'd pay a quid more at the health food store). Recently, Marco Pierre White came out of semi-retirement and onto a TV game show and into the press. To The Caterer, he revealed his secret ingredient: "Knorr chicken cubes? Genius product". Which really goes to show how long Marco's been out of it because, as any fool knows, Marigold rules.

Twenty five years ago Alastair Little taught me to make a basic soup: mirepoix sweated well down in a pot with the lid on and any other flavours added to this base. Cut whatever vegetable into cubes and then sweat 'em in the mirepoix for a while before pouring over a stock - AL used Knorr chicken bouillon out of a tub - and simmer for up to fifteen minutes before liquidisizing. That's the way I made soup every morning at 192 for a couple of years back in the early 80s and that's still the way I make a basic vegetable soup. Except nowadays, I use Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon (reduced salt, natch.)

The idea is to shop every morning before opening the Pullens Centre at 11am and starting to make soup, which should be ready around midday. I was slow getting started this morning and had to ask Gordon, Graham and Naomi to come back later, so the first folks to sample the soup were Mike & Alex, film makers from the workshop across Iliffe Yard, who pronounced it 'excellent'. In the comments book, one of them wrote, 'Excellent Soup!!' and it's not like I twisted his arm too hard.

To make this excellent soup, I diced a big onion and sweated it with the lid on my pot over low heat in a little vegetable oil while peeling and dicing half a kilo of carrots and half a head of celery (a Big Head). I don't know why I went with cauliflower, because I had been thinking about parsnips. I'd been thinking about a curried parsnip soup, actually, but I ended up with cauliflowers, so I thought I'd spice 'em up a bit with turmeric and ground jeera, adding a couple of heaped teaspoons of each to the mirepoix.

Often, people don't get full flavour out of a cauli, because they focus on the florets and throw the stalk away. When making soup, its best to cut the florets off and set them aside before chopping the stalk into cubes and sweating them with the mirepoix for a good ten minutes so they're well softened before you add the stock. Then add the finely chopped florets before covering the vegetable mixture with about twice the quantity of boiling bouillon: in this case, three litres.

Jan Duke, of Iliffe Yard Arts, loaned a big tea urn type of thing, which is just as well because the boiler in the Pullens Centre is kaput, so you can't get hot water out of the tap. Once the boiling bouillon is poured over the vegetables, the soup doesn't need much more cooking. If you've got time, you can turn off the heat and leave it too cool for a while before liquimifising. There's an old Braun stick mixer but Shaun donated, among other things, a rather more superior whizzer. He also came up with a brand new chopping board and a choice of aprons. But not yet a bigger soup pot.

As it went, six litres was plenty of soup,. Maybe another bowl full but not much more was left in the bottom of the pot after fourteen people had had their soup and some of those had had seconds innit. Among notable visitors to the Pullens Soup Kitchen on its first day of operation was lifetime Pullenite, Daisy Kelly-Granger, whose brother is the recipient of a mysterious envelope that fell onto the mat addressed to 'Oscar, 184 Crampton St... Mmm.

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Cauliflower
Other ingredients: Jeera, turmeric
Bowls served: 14
Expenditure: £11.91
Donations: £12.05

Running balance: +14p

I neglected to get a photo of Daisy, but Gordon came back with Graham and Naomi, who had picked up some other items to go with the soup and make more of a lunch:

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