The weather is in that uncertain stage when it’s not quite sure if it wants to take a leap into spring or bid a hasty retreat back into cold winter days. Here in London we’re used to changeable weather throughout the year where you can see huge 10C drops or jumps from one day to the next, but overall, these first days of February, though bringing a cold wind over the weekend, have brought signs of brighter days to come. The days are getting noticeably longer, the sun has shone in a clear blue sky and I was delighted this morning to find the first spring bulb – a beautiful dwarf iris – had sprung through the ground in my garden overnight.
The year may be divided into four seasons, but when it comes to my lunch choice, it’s divided merely into two: soup in the winter months; salad in the summer months. I always eat a main meal in the evening and look for a quick simple lunch, often because I’m working and want something fairly instant. I make batches of soup, packed in single portions for the freezer, during the winter and make up salads in the summer from a selection of vegetables – cucumber, peppers, carrots, rocket from the fridge; warm tomatoes and avocados from a bowl on the kitchen worktop – and add cheese or hummus. Then there’s the crossover time, like now. A warm spring day when I opt to put a salad together to go with the fresh sourdough loaf I bought in the morning; the cold wintry day when I make some soup or take a portion from the freezer. There comes the time when spring moves towards summer and I think I should use up any packets of soup lurking at the back of the freezer, so they don’t go off before winter comes again.
There are a lot of soup recipes on the blog but my go-to ones, made frequently, are Leek and Potato, Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato and Carrot Soup. As for Celery Soup, that’s not something I’ve made for a very long time. I always have celery. It’s an essential for making a soffritto – a mix of onion, celery and carrot that’s lightly fried in olive oil and forms the foundation of many an Italian dish or sauce. I might chop some celery into a mix of vegetables for roasting (click here); slice it thinly into a salad. I might simply eat a stick for a refreshing veggie snack. But I’ve not used it as the basis for a soup for so long, I can’t even remember if I ever have! But today it became almost a necessity. I ordered some organic celery in my weekly delivery from Waitrose and the pack was so large, it contained two heads of celery. I knew it would mainly go limp and old before I used it all, so a soup was made.
Celery has a very distinctive flavour and I think it’s one of those things you probably either like a lot or not at all. As part of a soffritto or in a large salad or vegetable mix, it remains more subtle, adding just a touch of sweetness, especially once cooked; raw there’s a slight bitterness to it. When it takes centre stage, then really you can’t ignore its flavour. It’s bold and intense and thus a soup in which it is the main ingredient will have a very strong celery taste too.
There always feels something a bit healthy about celery. Maybe it’s that snap of the raw stick; the fresh herby taste; its ‘clean’ look. It is indeed rich in vitamins and minerals like potassium and folate and it’s also a great source of fibre. So it is healthy. But in all honesty, I’m not ‘into’ foods for their health-giving properties, or at least that’s rarely my main concern. I do eat healthily – a balanced diet of mainly organic foods – but it’s flavour and thus enjoyment that are paramount in Travel Gourmet’s kitchen.
A few recipes I looked at made a creamy soup with celery, but I decided to keep it simple and just do my normal thing of adding onion and potato and not much else to a vegetable for soup. I had a bunch of some lovely thyme, so I decided to add a few sprigs of that. I’ll give a recipe below, but with this kind of soup, use what you have to hand and exact measurements aren’t important.
- 25g butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large baking potato, chopped
- 1 head of celery, chopped (including any leaves – don’t throw them away!)
- a few sprigs of thyme (optional)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- water or stock
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the potato and celery. Cook for another couple of minutes, stirring to stop the vegetables sticking to the bottom and to get them all to soften a bit. Season with some salt and pepper and add the sprigs of thyme, if using.
Pour over enough water or stock to just cover the vegetables. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat down, put a lid on and leave on a simmer to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Remove the woody thyme sprigs – most of the leaves will have come off and that’s fine. Then blitz it all with a stick blender until you have a smooth soup. Check seasoning.
I did add just a little natural yoghurt (I didn’t have cream) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to my bowl for lunch. Some two-day old sourdough bread was toasted and drizzled with olive oil and lunch was ready. Very simple and two portions to go into the freezer for another day.
It was delicious and made a nice change from all those other favourites I’ve been eating over the winter. There was something a bit more springlike about its fresh flavour. And yes it did taste quite healthy – but healthy plus flavour is good!