My grandfather was an extraordinarily wise and wonderful man. He also believed that no meal was complete unless it started with soup. Dessert was not always necessary. Soup was obligatory.
I have wonderful memories of him positioning himself at the head of the table in a most regal manner and ceremoniously tying a tea towel around his neck to protect his clothes while engaging anyone who was in the kitchen with the musings of his day. He would then tuck into a steaming bowl of soup come rain or shine, winter or summer, devouring the hot liquid at a ferocious rate while simultaneously continuing his conversation.
This ritual was repeated at lunch and dinner every day of the week. Food and the importance of our meals was, and continues to be, central to family life. If, lo and behold, there was no soup, his disappointment was made apparent to all, and, for sure, the same mistake wouldn’t be made again in a hurry.
As a result, in the succeeding generation soup was a prominent feature in our mealtime repertoire. Especially growing up in the 70‘s, in a pescatarian household. The difference was that our meals did not always start with soup, they often were soup. Minestrone, bean soups, barley soups, thick vegetable soups, fish soup, cold summer soups, hidden ingredients soups. Warming bowls of comfort in the winter with bread and salad were a staple weeknight meal and totally satisfying. I am now left wondering where I have gone wrong as a mother that my own children only tolerate about three varieties of hot liquid as a meal.
Despite my childrens’ indifference, I adore soup and it definitely is a staple in my diet. However, I have to say that I am much more in my mother’s camp of soup as a meal rather than a starter. I have basically given up on starters completely as I found that when we had what was formally known as a “first course”, I spent my time in the kitchen plating up the main course, and missed the opening of the meal. Which always seemed such a shame as I am no good at missing out. On anything. So I gave up on starters. At our house we have a mountain of nibbles, and then sit down to our main course. Much better for me at least!
Getting back to soup. My versions of soups have a main ingredient of comfort. They have to be simple, usually making the most of last week’s vegetables that have not yet been used, and a perfect vehicle for a meal to counterbalance the copious amounts of chocolate and sugar that I consume during a week. And most importantly they need to contain enough flavour to be satisfying enough for a lunch or light dinner. Roasted vegetable soups are a favourite, as the caramelising effect of roasting brings a sweetness without any added sugar.
In the mode of keeping everything as simple as possible, the bonus of this soup is 3 main ingredients, and no careful chopping.
Roasted Fennel and Celeriac Soup
3 fennel bulbs
1 medium celeriac root
1 medium onion a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1-2 tbsp olive oil good pinch of salt and pepper
1.5 litre (6 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F) Halve fennel bulbs and cut each half into three longways through the root.
Peel celeriac bulb and cut into cubes.
Halve onion, peel and cut each half in to thirds through the root.
Place all the cut vegetables on a roasting tray and sprinkle over the thyme leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper.
Mix everything so that it is well coated.
Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are nicely caramelised - do not let them get too dark as it will alter the colour of the soup.
When they are ready, put the roasted vegetables in a soup pot and cover with the stock.
Bring back to the boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until everything is soft.
Blend soup until smooth in a blender or with a handheld blender and check seasoning. It will be very smooth and velvety.
To make it more of a cream soup, add some milk once blended, or serve wtih a dollop of creme fraiche.