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It's soup season. Make a freezer soffriito.
The trick to good soup is a ton of aromatics.
Last year I developed an unhealthy relationship with a chicken, nduja, and kale soup from Sainsburys, so I thought nothing of picking a couple of cartons up whenever I did a shop. I had a staff job, so the £3.40 price tag seemed fine. Now, I think of soup as something that’s perfect for Scraps, because a) are you fucking kidding at that price, and b) it’s the most low-risk, high reward thing you can make.
In the last month I’ve been making a batch of soup a week. I want to make really good soup with inexpensive ingredients, but load as much flavour in as possible — so while I love the thought of meatballs in a tomato broth, or a fish chowder, that’s giving what I call ‘main meal energy’. I like a robust soup that takes no faffing, that I can make in the mid morning and enjoy at lunch.
You can make a flavoursome soup pretty quickly if you have your shit together, and part of that involves preparation. We’ve covered broths and stocks in previous issues, but recently I’ve got into the habit of making an aromatics base I can stash in the freezer. This usually consists of finely diced carrot, celery, and onion (known as a soffritto or mirepoix depending on whether you cook them in olive oil or butter). Unlike my scraps bag, which is almost designed to be full of any and all kinds of leftovers, I keep the soffritto mix pretty basic, although often I’ll crush then chuck some garlic cloves in there, too.
Soffitto in action
When you want to make your soup, it’s a case of scooping out a couple of cups of soffritto mix and adding it to your cast-iron. I give it a little longer to cook on a gentle heat, to let the veg defrost slightly, and then increase it to let the aromatics caramelise and roast up.
Here are the rough steps I take when making soup:
Start with the aromatics base. Cook this until they take on some colour, you’re looking for flavour and that usually means brown edges and an almost custardy texture to the carrots. These brings sweetness, the onion a roasted savouriness, and the celery has a vegetal quality — the three work perfectly together. But feel free to add extra elements — dried oregano or thyme are good for an Italian soup, while ginger and shallots (in place of the onion) are a nice base for a Thai inspired dish.
Broth/stock/liquid. This can be a stock cube dissolved in water, or a home made stock. I’ve recently featured thick beef stocks and roasted veg stock made from vegetable scraps in this newsletter. But tinned tomatoes, coconut milk, even some miso paste in hot water will work well. I’ve even heard of cooks using the liquid from a tin of chickpeas or butter beans as the basis for a stock (just the thought of that chickpea binjuice makes me gag personally, but you do you).
The main ingredients. I think the worst soups are the ones trying to do all things at once. I try to stick to three elements here, sometimes only two if one of them is meaty. This week I did a roasted tomato, red pepper, and bacon soup.
Toppings. I think croutons, breadcrumbs, chilli oil, some fresh herbs, or a dollop of creme fraiche is really nice here. Fried crispy onions are also delicious.
Currently listening to: Carly going full Toto on her new album.
Spiced potato-skin “croutons”
Crispy, salty, crunchy potato skins.
Some really good soups I’ve made recently include a potato, bacon, and parsnip soup, and a turkey and fennel soup I made with ground turkey. For the former, I peeled the potatoes to make them cook quicker (I wanted a velvety consistency, which I thought the peels might inhibit) and that left me with some potato skins. A few months ago, I shared a recipe on here for spiced roasted potato skins, and it went down a storm. I wondered whether I could roast the skins again and then blitz them into crispy, spicy breadcrumbs for the soup.
It kind of worked? I rushed the skins, unlike last time, so they didn’t go really crispy. They need to be really dry in order to roast, so what you need to do is salt the skins and leave them in a sieve of colander for a bit, then wash them and pat dry. You can wring them out in kitchen roll, too. I think the kind of potatoes will also change the texture of the peel. These ones were quite waxy, which doesn’t help. In either case, check the hyperlink in the above paragraph for the original recipe, then simply whack in a food processor and blitz. I always put breadcrumbs back in a hot pan to help them crisp up before serving.