Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12/13.12.07: Carlo Interlude

As you can see from this picture of the sun in the tree opposite the Pullens Centre, the weather this past few days has been crystal clear and freezing cold. The kind of conditions that surely call for the kind of hot and spicy soup of which Signor Atif is a past master.

Carlo is establishing himself as the Soup Kitchen's midweek attraction and his style is becoming familiar: on Wednesday, he makes a powerfully-flavoured soup which he calls by some enigmatic name that gives no clue as to the constituents of the soup, although its usually supported by such weighted adjectives as 'vegan' and 'organic'. This week's concoction was billed as 'Sweet 'n' sour Valentine': basically, a very gingery orange broth with pearl barley in the bottom. When I say gingery, it cleared the sinuses. Carlo told me he made it 'Thai style' and I'm not sure what that means, but I suspect what he did was grate the ginger and boil it up to make an infusion, added to finish what was a sensational and distinctly adult soup.

The day after, Carlo tends to extend what's left of his soup from the day before by adding a green vegetable puree, re-jigging the spices, and serving the soup with garlic bread as croutons. This week, he used broccoli (billed on the black board as 'Something Fab') and the resulting soup was thicker and heartier. Or maybe that was just me, getting into the festive mood a couple of weeks early.

Freed from the need to make soup from scratch, Carlo can focus his considerable culinary expertise upon the pasta, as Thursday is Pasta Nite. Again this week, he served fusilli with an extraordinary, fruity veggie sauce that defies conventional notions of Italianate, tomato-based pasta dishes. This one incorporated rhubarb (rhubarb!), which was a first for me, and was accompanied by a crisp carrot and sultana salad. Which was nice.

Although there weren't really enough takers to make it worth his while, hopefully Carlo will persevere with Pasta Nite for at least a few weeks into the New Year, until sufficient numbers of people get used to the idea that they can eat their dinner at the Pullens Centre on Thursday evenings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

11.12.07: Broccoli

Lou usually makes soup on Tuesdays but this today it was down to me. I sank a few pints last night with former Pullenite, Tim Platt, and started late this morning, so I thought I'd fall back on a classic, one for which I have an almost perfect recipe that I can knock out while slightly groggy and half asleep. So here goes:

1. At a stall in East Street, I spent a fiver on a carrier bag full of broccoli, about the kilos, plus the mirepoix vegetables: carrots, onions and celery, plus garlic and half a dozen waxy potato.

2. Start by peeling and crushing the cloves of a head of garlic and dicing three medium-sized mild onions, four biggish carrots and a smallish head of celery, tossing the veg as it's chopped into a splash of oil in the bottom of the soup pot, over medium heat.

3. Turn down the heat and season the mirepoix with a generous sprinkling - say, two desserts spoons full - of powdered coriander. Continue to cook with the lid on the soup pot, lifting which it regularly to stir the chopped veg to stop it from sticking.

4. Prepare the broccoli by removing and reserving the florets and chop the stalks into approximately a 1cm dice, adding it to the soup pot. The broccoli I had was nice and fresh, but the stalks were a bit stringy and needed quite a lot of cooking to soften up before being liquidizised.

5. Peel the potatoes, dice them into centimetre cubes and put them into the pot with the rest of the veg. Cover it with four litres of Marigold bouillon, bring the soup to the boil and simmer it for twenty minutes, until the broccoli stalks are soft and the potatoes start to dissolve. Then leave the soup to stand for five or ten minutes before whizzing it up.

6. Throw the broccoli florets into the soup with another two litres of bouillon, return to the heat and cook for a further ten minutes before blending the cooked florets into the soup with a stick mixer.

7. Serve with an optional swirl of fresh yoghurt, or cream if you prefer.

I used fresh, runny EasiYo yogurt and went a bit over the top in the bowl that's pictured, but it sorted my hangover and generally went down very well. Especially with Mike who wrote in the log bok: TRIFFIC - Broccoli; King of the Soup Jungle!!

Monday, December 10, 2007

10.12.07: Miso & Celeriac, Roots & Kale

This was the third variation on the winter Miso soup I've been developing, with chunky root veggies and shredded greens. The first, on 17.10.07, was thickened with pearl barley in the bottom; the second, on 23.11.07, had a base of red kidney beans, whizzed up. This one was thickened using a celeriac mash I made for my Sunday dins. I looked all over for celeriac and never thought of Lidl, but there I found a great big celeriac root. I steamed it with an equal quantity of potatoes and mashed the two together with a bit of fat. OK, you might as well know the truth. I admit I used real, unsalted butter from real cows and it was delicious.

First thing this Monday morning, I had to shop. Foolishly, I'd neglected to stock up on Marigold at Fare Shares last week, so was obliged to pay a quid extra in Baldwins this morning, where I also purchased a 300g pouch of Clearspring Hatcho Miso. As it turned out, this was probably more than I needed and maybe I could have saved some in the re-sealable pouch. This miso has seriously deep flavour and I reckon I could've got away with using maybe 200g in the six litres of liquid that went into today's soup.

I had a selection of rooty veg left over from the weekend, two types of turnip and those long red radishes from the Turkish supermarket, to which I added a couple of smallish swedes from Somerfield (on sale at half price!) and a polythene pillow of shredded curly kale.

To make the soup, I started by peeling the cloves of a head of garlic and roughly chopping a couple of largish onions, throwing them into the bottom of the soup pot with a splash of oil while I peeled and diced four large carrots and washed and chopped a head of celery, which also went into the pot. These mixed vegetables cooked slowly over very low heat with the soup pot lid on, being removed occasionally to stir, while I got on with peeling and dicing the rooty veg. I spread the diced swede, turnips and radishes onto an oven tray with a smear of oil and popped them into a hot oven to roast for 15-20 minutes. In retrospect, I'd have been better off with a wok, but I didn't have one to hand.

To the cooked mixed vegetables in the soup pot, I added the celeriac and potato mash, at least 3/4kg of it, plus the off cuts from the cubed root vegetables and covered it two litres of Marigold bouillon. I simmered the soup for fifteen minutes, left it to stand for ten and then liquidizised it with Brenda the blender while adding another two litres of bouillon.

The blurb on the back of the miso packet advises: 'avoid lengthy boiling to preserve the enzymatic properties of this unpasteurised miso', so I dissolved the 300g of miso paste in two litres of water that was hot, but not boiling. Finally, I assembled the soup by adding the cubed root vegetables and the miso to the pot and shredding the kale a bit more finely before stirring it in to the finished soup.

Before the soup was finished - and it was ready for 12:30 - a couple of women were waiting and nearly all the soup was gone by 3:00. Soon after 3:15, when Crampton Primary School lets out, Jack Kelly Granger burst in, breathlessly, to claim the last bowl.

Among today's soup slurpers were Taz and Will, Alexa and Julian . Taz has got an iPhoney and Julian had to restrain himself from dunking it in his soup. I needed a photo for the blog, so Will took a picture of me with the iPhone and pretended to dunk it in my soup. My face in I+I soup, innit.