Autumn/Winter 2016, Soup

First I fold all of the washing that has been hanging in the flat over the backs of chairs and on doors and from every available edge all week and put it in drawers or hang it in the wardrobe, then I hang up another load of washing from the machine, then I change the sheets and put them in the wash, then I wash up the dishes, then I hoover the flat and re-place every thing that is out of place and at 9.15pm, I decide to make soup: reader, I am procrastinating to avoid something.  The flat looks really nice now, which is a shame, as we have to leave soon even though we only recently moved in, because of The London Property Market.

At the weekend Sam made a really good chicken stock that wobbled a little like a jelly in its bowl in the fridge when I moved it around to get other things out. The stock reminded me that we first met he told me how he had resolved to cure what ailed him at the time by making stock every week, to be healed by the logic and economy and stimulating good sense of making a bird last a week, given the chance. He shared a picture online of a yellow jug full of murky liquid, going into the fridge. I was impressed. Buying and cooking a whole chicken is so sociable, so grand. A whole chicken is always an occasion, I think. Usually, economising, I buy thighs. I like how convenient they are to cook, always juicy and even free range ones are quite cheap and tasty. The skin on thighs is more robust than that on the breast and I like to eat the skin if it’s crisp and salty. And it would not be sensible to cook a whole chicken all of the time. Who has the time for it? The time for the guilt if there’s no time to simmer a stock. The time to have a social occasion at which to eat it, where everyone must be present at once to choose their bit, breast, leg, wing, the oyster that I first saw the man eat in the film Amélie and subsequently felt superior for knowingly rootling out from the bird’s underneath.

Everyone must be present when the chicken is disassembled and shared out. I felt sophisticated for wanting pieces with bones in when I grew up as I learned that it was sophisticated to want the pieces with bones in and give the impression of intelligent choice, though when I was a younger child and more gambollingly honest in my wants, I preferred the white, perfect breast meat. Now I like some of both actually. But I do feel a vicarious thrill of disobedience when people offend taste and judgement as I am carving a chicken, badly, and request the breast meat only. The gall! I am secretly pleased.

Simmering the bones and the bits of flesh that escaped the first grand eating of the chicken with some vegetables and herbs smells quite nice and makes one feel like a worthwhile sort of person, though I usually only remember to do so when I have spare time on my hands and am feeling fanciful so actually it’s a matter of leisure, not efficiency like I thought. Like tonight when I am avoiding opening my Ph. D. thesis to read through my words and look out for errors, each of which makes me feel sick and I know that tomorrow I will be told just how many there are when I have my rehearsal viva. 

This soup was delicious and sweet and irony and savoury in flavour, and afterwards I read my thesis and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. 


1 head of cavolo nero, washed, stalk removed and diced and leaves roughly chopped, or kale

1 onion or shallot, finely sliced

1/2 head of fennel, finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 clove of garlic, crushed with a pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds, crushed a little

1/2 tablespoon of tomato paste or tomato ketchup

1/2 glass of white wine

1/4 a small green-skinned pumpkin or squash, peeled and diced

a chunk of pancetta or a couple of strips of streaky bacon, roughly chopped

a handful of any rice (in this instance I had risotto rice)

5 ladlefuls of chicken stock, bought or made

1 cup of water

tasty extra virgin olive oil, to serve

1/2 lemon, to serve

Optional – parmesan or really thick greek yogurt or creme fraiche, to serve

How to make:

Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot in which you will cook the soup and turn on the heat. Add the onion, fennel and carrot and sweat for 5 minutes or so, until softening. Add the garlic and the tomato paste and the fennel seeds and stir for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir for a minute. Add the rice and stir for a minute. Add the wine and stir. Add the pumpkin and the cavolo nero stalks and stir and then add the stock and water. Bring to a simmer. Put a lid on and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the cavolo nero leaves and simmer with a lid on for a further 5-10 minutes or until tender. Add salt to taste.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of lemon over. Add some parmesan or creme fraiche if you fancy. 



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