The mother of all soups

Tomato, fennel, pink peppercorn soup with Highbank Orchard Syrup


Isn’t there something they say about necessity? and mothers?

Well if you’re like me, you probably aren’t a big fan of recipes. I mean they have their place and all. I like to read them, just not necessarily while I’m in the kitchen. And I like to get ideas from them, but then prefer to do it my own way. I think it’s part of why I made such a bad dance partner when I went to Cuba – my head wanted to follow my dance partner but my feet wanted to do their own thing to the music.

But the truth is that half the fun of cooking is making it up as you go along. And some of the best discoveries are made by accident. Take today. I book-ended my day with two fine home-made meals (well, mini-meals really), both featuring crushed pink peppercorns because I had run out of black peppercorns. Both mini-meals also featured treats picked up from a super stylish showcase thrown by Odaios Foods in Fitzwilliam Square yesterday.

For anyone not involved in restaurants / delis and who don’t know Odaios, they are suppliers of some very fine foods indeed. Think Kettyle beef and Burren smoked salmon, Arbutus bread and Coopershill smoked venison, Belvoir cordials and Cornish Sea Salt, Valrhona chocolate and Rude Health Organic foods.

I went. I ate. I spoke to lots of fantastic people about lots of fantastic products. It was, in short, heaven – compounded by the fact that:

  • (a) the sun was shining,
  • (b) there was gourmet pizza from a charming man in a van with a wood-burning oven inside it*,
  • (c) it was at the end of a long long day,
  • (d) it all took place in tipis, and involved juggling glasses of champagne and tasters of hot chocolate,
  • (e) I was able to justify all this swanning around as ‘work’, and
  • (f) it was around the corner from my gaff so that when one of the organisers insisted I take home some of the fresh food they’d have to chuck otherwise, I was able to stroll home with a box of goodies.

Said box included:

  • a round crusty loaf of Arbutus bread;
  • a little plastic kilner jarful of hot-smoked Burren salmon (both of which featured with my first mini-meal of pink-peppercorned scrambled egg);
  • fresh pasta from The Fresh Pasta Company, some stuffed with artichoke, some asparagus;
  • ready-to-heat dark hot chocolate from Benoit’s Chocolate Factory (look out for them in a cafe / deli near you featuring various flavours including chilli, and caramel – all based on Valrhona chocolate) and a slab of their cinnamon chocolate;
  • a large handful worth of baby carrots, another of baby fennel and a veritable family of tomatoes: big ones, little ones, round ones, long ones, even yellow ones.

And so it was that on the day after passing in through the gates of heaven, and back out again, I cooked up the second mini-meal, a tomato and fennel soup seasoned with pink peppercorn and finished with Highbank Orchard Syrup.

I’m not going to give you a recipe to follow, in the sense of spelling it out for you, because where would be the fun in that?

But I will go so far as to tell you that it did involve sweating an onion and several baby fennel very slowly in some olive oil and salt, seasoning with crushed peppercorns, adding in some peeled chopped tomotoes, including some yellow ones, adding some ice-cubes of veg stock and topping up with boiling water to cover the lot before cooking down until soft and sweet and finally blitzing with a hand blender.

When I tasted it, the tomatoes tasted like they were still pining for summer to kick in properly, so it needed a bit of a sweetener to round it out as well as some salt to draw out the flavours. I added a good spoonful of Demerara sugar dissolved in a little hot water and that helped, but then I finished it with a dose of Highbank Orchard Syrup (made in Kilkenny from local apples) which was so lovely that tomorrow I might try adding a little pureed apple to the soup. The syrup also looked pretty swirled onto the bowlful of soup, and I garnished it with some shaved fennel and chopped frond.

The resulting soup ain’t necessarily what everyone would describe as the mother of all soups. But then each to their own invention. I was rather happy with mine.

*you’ll find that pizza van in Greystones, Wed–Sun, 5pm–late(ish)…

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