When it comes to cooking, I think it is a good idea to learn techniques rather than specific recipes. For the lazy or inept cook, the best technique to learn is persuading other people to cook for you. If that fails, learning the principles of a basic casserole or pan frying meat and making an accompanying sauce using the pan juices will lead to a life of endless variety because you just apply the technique to different ingredients. The same applies with learning how to make a basic soup.

The idea for this grown up sounding celeriac and Stilton combination was governed totally by ingredients we had left over following a New Year’s Eve meal. The meal included root vegetables and cheese and biscuits but not in the same course. This quantity only serves two; again this is down to the amount of we had left at the time. Why not don your safety goggles (read on!) and give this easy but slightly hazardous soup a go. I’ll then give some tips on applying the technique.
Peel and dice a quarter of a celeriac, one and a half parsnips and a stick of celery (no, no, don’t attempt to peel the celery, that would be quite difficult). All the celeriac in our local supermarket were about the same size but I don’t know if there is a global standard dictating the size of this knobbly vegetable. I guess the one we had was no bigger than 6 inches/15cm in diameter. Roughly chop a smallish onion and small garlic clove. Melt some butter in the bottom of a pan then add the vegetables and gently fry for a few minutes. You are not trying to cook the vegetables but this process helps bring out the flavour (that’s what I was always told). Cover the vegetables generously with water plus a bit more. Sorry I can’t be more precise but that is usually how I cook (“hope cuisine” as referred to in my “Welcome” post and About page). So I just did this by gut feel but, fear not, you can adjust things later on.
Bring the pan to the boil, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes. When vegetables are very soft, turn off heat and blitz with electric hand blender until smooth. Carefully wipe the scalding soup from your eyes and the wall behind the hob. Change shirt. Make mental note to self to wear an apron next time. Yes, blitzing in the pan can be a hazardous operation especially with such a small quantity of soup (the quantity having got even smaller as a result). The problem with such a small quantity of liquid is that there is not really enough to cover the business end of the blender when you tilt it to capture lumps of vegetable. Tip: transfer the soup to a taller, narrower vessel. Sensible folk will also wait for it to cool down a bit before blitzing.
If the soup ends up too thick, add more water or maybe milk. If it’s too thin, tough! You live and learn. Actually you could add more veg and continue simmering. If you have no more celeriac or parsnip left then you could use potato.
Once you have cleaned up yourself and your kitchen, add freshly ground black pepper and then crumble in Stilton cheese to taste. I used maybe 2oz/50g (that’s all I had) which gave a subtle flavour. You can add more if you want a stronger Stiltony taste. That’s the beauty of this soup – it can be personalised. Add bit of salt if you think it is needed but the cheese probably provides enough saltiness.
From the above, you can extract a technique for making basic vegetable soups:
  • Peel and dice some vegetables (could even be leftover, cooked veg from a meal)
  • Simmer in liquid (I actually use stock – chicken, vegetable, turkey or ham – for most soups rather than water)
  • Blitz (carefully) with electric hand blender
  • Clean kitchen
If the veg are robust enough (i.e. root vegetables, peppers, leeks, courgette), I include the frying stage described above before adding the liquid or I may oven roast the vegetables. Butternut squash (together with onions and red peppers) is a classic for oven roasting until caramelised a bit. This really brings out the flavour and sweetness. Onions go in virtually all of the soups I make.
You can also add additional flavours at the frying/roasting stage. Try spices such as cinnamon or cumin and coriander with butternut squash or sweet potato or ginger with parsnip (and maybe add some apple in with the vegetables). Smoked paprika and/or chorizo are particular favourites of mine to add to the veg. (I adore the aroma of smoked paprika and have been caught inhaling directly from the jar; I’m trying to kick the habit though).
After you have made your basic soup, you can add things at the finish, e.g. chopped meat such as chicken, turkey, ham or more chorizo and/or herbs. A bit of cream or yoghurt may also be a suitable additive.
So why not have go at inventing your own soup? If you are unsure of results, you could always try it on the mother-in-law first.
Interesting picture of celeriac. Mind your fingers.


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