Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.
But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise.
It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).
This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.
Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.
NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.
Ingredients (serves 4)
50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)
1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced
3 cloves garlic
4 sticks celery, roughly chopped
Large sprig fresh thyme
100ml white wine
1 litre vegetable stock. (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)
500g frozen peas
20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks
100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil
2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time
3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third
4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes
5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately
6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm.