Cape Town - There are always too many, always more than you need or the recipe calls for. A cucumber is always too long for the salad you’re making, and the leftover half more often than not will be left in the crisper just long enough to turn it to jelly.
There will always be a few baby Roma tomatoes left, of which three, when you retrieve them a few days later, will have turned furry.
That packet of “young” carrots will always be four too many, and of the four remaining in the crisper a week later, two will be fine, one will have sprouted like Art Garfunkel’s hair and the fourth will be as limp as a porn star with stage fright.
Who ever needs as much celery as is sold in the average packet? Celery does not keep for very long and it has to be super-crisp, so really, they should be sold in smaller portions. But there is no choice in the matter. That’s how they sell ’em, so of all the celery ever sold, a good half of it goes in the bin, so you’re paying twice what you need to. This reminds me of Mr Colman, who, legend has it, liked to say he made his fortune from the dab of mustard left over at the edge of the plate.
Ditto fennel. Those clouds of fronds willowing like Dolly Parton’s hair when she sang Jolene, as you pull them out of the cellophane wrapping. Unless you’re curing enough salmon to feed a contingent of Idols hopefuls clamouring for the chance to sing I Believe I Can Sing to Gareth Cliff (and don’t mind using fennel instead of the milder dill), you’ll never need more than a fraction of it.
And those punnets of herbs. You’ll never have time to use all that thyme. That coriander is twice as much as you’ll need for a curry. That’s way too much basil, and basil really does not keep well. And parsley – they sell bunches of it at my local Pick n Pay that make Eighties Big Hair look small.
And finally, cabbage. One thing in its favour is that it lasts longer in the fridge than other vegetables, but even so, a whole one is too much for anything outside of a restaurant or, if it’s red, a beer hall.
So, I had all sorts of bits and pieces in the crisper this week, and it was all in good nick. There were some lovely Bright Young Carrots singing Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue in one corner. There was a barber shop quartet of celery sticks doing Chatanooga Choochoo in perfect harmony.
Two fat, beefy mommas were singing the theme from Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes. A sextet of broccoli florets were preening to Blue Velvet while a bevy of mangetout coyly mouthed La Vie en Rose. Some tone-deaf leeks looked on in bemusement.
What to make of this cacophany? It had to be a soup. I usually make blended ones focused on a particular ingredient or two. Mushroom, or butternut, or potato and leek, or broccoli and blue cheese. I don’t go in for chunky soups; they seem too much of a mish-mash, lacking direction, like a bunch of boy band hopefuls who can’t find either the right note or Simon Cowell.
But the crisper was presenting me with a challenge, it was a chilly Cape day, the fireplace was beckoning, and when the choir of discordant discards threatened to burst into the theme song from Titanic, their days were numbered. There is little more unsettling in life than a bunch of carrots and turnips singing My Heart Must Go On.
Lots of chopping was in order. Not everything in the crisper is likely to be suitable for a good vegetable broth, but the ones compatible would be likely to include carrots, turnips (parsnips too if you have them), onion and garlic, of course, tomatoes, celery (fennel too) and fresh herbs. I would not use mushrooms in this kind of mix, cabbage could turn it bitter, and nor would capsicum do it for me, although you could use a little chilli. I was in two minds about the broccoli, but chopped a small floret while thinking about it, and immediately decided to include it, as the floral head when chopped disintegrated into tiny bits that I thought would add some nice texture, which they did.
Winter vegetable soup
2 tbs olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 or 4 medium carrots, diced finely
2 large potatoes, peeled and finely diced
2 celery sticks, sliced thinly
2 tbs chopped fennel stems, sliced finely
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped very finely
2 large beef tomatoes, finely diced
2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
2 tbs thyme, finely chopped
2 tbs plain flour
1 cup (250ml) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and white pepper
Saute the chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil for two minutes, add the chopped carrots, very finely chopped potatoes, celery and fennel, and simmer, stirring, for three or four minutes for the flavours to develop. Add the broccoli, stir, and then the chopped tomatoesand herbs. Sprinkle over the flour. Stir to combine and keep it on the heat for two or three minutes, stirring all the while.
Add the chicken or vegetable stock, and a good quantity of cold water. You’ll have to judge this as there’s no set rule… you want a relatively thick soup, and the flour and potatoes will help thicken it, as well as the reduction process while it’s simmering away.
Simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste. If the flavours are still too tame, reduce it some more – it’s not about how long it takes, but when it tastes good and has thickened to a pleasant consistency. If you get bored, break into your best rendition of My Heart Will Go On or, better still, don’t.
Eat it with crusty bread. - Sunday Argus