This article first appeared on The Circle on Sunday 13 January.
Photos by Rachel Zammit Cutajar
Though our winter days are short and we don’t suffer temperatures as low as our European cousins, high humidity and insufficient heating systems mean we are constantly cold. Getting warm is best done from the inside out and while a hot cup of tea might do the job, you won’t get the same comfort or nutrition as you would from a steaming bowl of soup.
Soups form part of almost every culture around the world and date back to the 16th century when cereal was cooked in broth and sold by street vendors in France as an antidote for physical exhaustion. In 1765 an entrepreneur opened a shop in Paris that specialised in such soups that prompted the word restaurant (meaning something restoring) to be used for eating establishments the world over.
A relatively cheap meal made with stock, meat, grain and/or vegetables, every country has a specialty from their area; goulash in Hungary, ramen in Japan, pho in Vietnam, sopa Azteca in Mexico and soppa tal-armla in Malta.
After the Christmas indulgence, make a big pot of soup and settle down to enjoy by a roaring fire and fight keep those winter chills at bay.
Leek and potato soup with cheese croutons
· 8 leeks
· 4 potatoes
· 100g butter
· 50g flour
· 1½ litres chicken or vegetable stock (or water and two stock cubes)
· Handful parsley chopped
· 1 bay leaf
· Large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
· 500ml creamy milk (milk mixed with a little cream)
· Chopped chives or parsley, to garnish
· 6 slices white bread
· 50g butter
· A little mustard or marmite
· 8 tbsp melting cheese (Cheddar, Gruyere or Masdam)
· Cayenne pepper
1. Slice the white parts of the leeks and wash well in salted cold water.
2. Peel and slice the potatoes finely.
3. Melt the butter in the pot and add the potatoes and drained leeks.
4. Cook gently for about 6 mins stirring to prevent sticking or browning.
5. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well.
6. When thoroughly mixed, add the stock (or water and stock cubes).
7. Add herbs and seasoning (parsley, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper).
8. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly.
9. Lower heat and simmer for 25 – 30 mins or until vegetables are tender.
10. Remove bay leaf and blend the soup in an electric blender or put through a fine moulie-legumes.
11. Re-heat and adjust seasoning.
12. Put the milk into a separate pan and bring to just below boiling point before adding it to the soup.
13. Sprinkle with the chopped chives or chopped parsley in each soup bowl and serve cheese croutons separately.
14. To make the croutons, toast bread slices one side only. Allow to cool.
15. Butter other side and spread a little mustard or marmite, then cover thickly with grated cheese and a little salt and pepper.
16. Grill till cheese is melted and browned.
17. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper.
18. When slightly cooled, cut into squares or fingers and serve warm with hot soup.
French onion soup
Food has a way of taking you back to memorable moments in your past. I first had this soup with my friends Pat and Michel at 3am in Paris after a dinner earlier followed by a cabaret at ‘Paradis Latin’! Whenever I make it I am instantly transported back to the streets of Paris and long nights of excitement with friends.
Serves 4 – 6
· 50g butter
· 1 tbsp oil
· 500g onions, thinly sliced
· ½ tsp sugar
· 1 tbsp flour
· 1 litre beef stock (or water and 2 stock cubes)
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 6 slices one-day-old French bread (baguette)
· 1 clove garlic, halved
· 100g Gruyere cheese grated
· 2 tbsp brandy
· A little extra olive oil
1. Melt the butter and tablespoon oil in a very large heavy pan.
2. Add the sliced onions and stir well.
3. Cover and cook over a moderate heat for 20 mins or until the onions are quite soft and a butter yellow.
4. Raise the heat, sprinkle in the sugar and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the onions turn a rich golden brown.
5. Sprinkle with the flour and when this has also browned, add the stock and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.
6. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for another 20 mins.
7. Meanwhile rub the slices of bread with the cut surface of the clove of garlic, sprinkle on a little olive oil and bake in a hot oven, or toast gently under a grill.
8. Place a little of the grated cheese on each slice and melt under the grill until lightly browned.
9. Put the toasted bread and cheese into individual bowls and when soup is ready, adjust seasoning and add the brandy and then pour some soup into each bowl, put these under the grill again for one minute and serve very hot.
Soppa tal-armla (Widow's soup)
Soppa tal-armla is a traditional Maltese dish that makes the most out of seasonal vegetables. It is cheap and goes a long way and was thus a popular dish with housewives needing to feed large families. Fresh gbejniet and poached eggs make this simple veggie soup a little more hearty.
· 2 tbsp butter
· 4 tbsp olive oil
· 2 medium onions, peeled
· 2 potatoes, peeled
· 1kg fresh spinach, cleaned
· ¼ medium cabbage
· ½ cauliflower
· 1 small lettuce
· 1 small endive (indivia)
· 1 kohlrabi (gidra), peeled
· 1 handful fresh or frozen peas
· 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
· 2 tbsp tomato puree (kunserva tat-tadam)
· 2 vegetable stock cubes
· 1 stick young celery
· Salt and pepper
· Sprinkling of Parmesan cheese
· Fresh gbejniet or soft cheese like ricotta
· 1 egg per person
1. Clean and prepare all the vegetables, and chop them roughly.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot, then add all the chopped vegetables, and cook stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are soft (about 5 mins).
3. Add salt and pepper and the tomato puree, stock cubes and enough water to cover.
4. Bring to the boil, then lower heat, and simmer gently with lid on pan for about 45 mins until all the vegetables are well cooked.
5. Before serving this soup, poach an egg per person in the soup, together with the gbejniet or ricotta.
6. Carefully spoon these into individual soup plates, then spoon the soup over these, adding a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
“ Only the pure of heart can make good soup" — Beethoven
Dive into more comfort this winter
Get more of Pippa’s recipes in her cookbooks 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen (also translated into Maltese) and the Gourmand award-winning Pippa’s Festa. All three books are available at all leading bookstores or online from www.mirandabooks.com with free delivery to Malta and Gozo addresses.