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Put that classic tomato soup to one side and welcome in these three creamier offerings from Rachel Allen’s new cookbook.
Whoever it was that branded soup a simple pleasure was absolutely correct. That isn’t to say soup lacks the complexity of a moreish bake or the gravitas of our prized roast dinners, though. The indulgence of a wintertime soup lies in its texture. Creamy, thick and packing a flavourful punch with every spoonful, what’s not to love? Particularly on those evenings when you fancy something rich in texture but wonderfully nostalgic in taste, a creamy soup gives that exact dose of comfort we need to feel at ease.
When it comes to making gloriously luxurious food without the headache of finicky instructions, acclaimed Irish chef Rachel Allen knows a thing or two. From her post as a teacher at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, to her numerous cooking shows for the BBC and RTE in Ireland and penning 14 cookbooks, there’s nothing that isn’t in her remit at this point.
Now, she’s shifting her attention in a soupier direction with her latest cookbook, Soup Broth Bread, out now. A love letter that lets soup – particularly those of the creamy variety – reign as a beloved, reliable failsafe, she proves there’s more to it than just satiating the hunger we feel. Sure, that’s pretty important, but it’s the comfort it provides in every situation that really hits home, whether it’s a mid-week treat or a cure for a broken heart. Either way, you’ll be sure to find a recipe to flick back to for years to come…
Firstly, if you’re itching to lean into the Christmas spirit early but don’t want to go all out quite yet, Allen’s Brussels sprout soup with candied bacon and roasted hazelnuts will do the trick. Put those beloved sprouts to good use by pairing them with a hearty helping of potatoes and onions. Plus, when topped with bacon that’s been given the sweet treatment, it’ll keep you fuelled until the big event.
If the mood calls for a veg-heavy soup, Allen’s roasted parsnip, garlic and haricot bean soup with sage is sure to live up to expectations. Parsnips, partnered with roasted garlic is one thing, but add crunchy sage atop and it’s even more flavoursome. Not to mention, it doubles as an envy-inducing Insta post, too.
For those with a penchant for all things herby, Allen’s potato, parsley and thyme soup with chorizo is one for you. Now, it’s fair to say that potatoes can be a little bland sometimes, but blend them with fragrant herbs like parsley and thyme, and they’re instantly elevated. Go a step further and add in some mouthwatering chorizo chunks to make it the perfect winter warmer for any night of the week.
Brussels sprout soup with candied bacon and roasted hazelnuts
Rachel says: This is the most Christmassy soup, with the candied bacon and roasted hazelnuts bringing a festive flavour and delicious crunch to the sprouts. To get ahead, make the soup in advance and freeze it. The candied bacon can be made hours in advance of serving, and the hazelnuts can even be roasted a couple of days ahead.
For the soup
- 50g butter
- 175g peeled and diced potatoes
- 175g peeled and diced onions
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 400g Brussels sprouts
- 1.1 litres chicken stock
- 250ml cream or milk, or a mixture
For the roasted hazelnuts
- 50g hazelnuts
For the candied bacon
- 25g soft light brown sugar, such as light Muscovado sugar
- 6 slices of streaky bacon (smoked if you wish)
First, make the soup. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper, then turn the heat down to low, cover with the saucepan lid and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent the vegetables sticking and burning.
While the potatoes and onions are cooking, prepare the sprouts. Trim the base, remove and discard the outer two or three leaves, and slice the sprouts thinly. Set aside. When the potatoes and onions have been cooking for 10 minutes, add the chicken stock and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Add the sliced sprouts to the pan and cook over a high heat, with the lid off, until tender, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Do not overcook, or the sprouts will lose their fresh colour and flavour. Add the cream or milk and blend until smooth. If you want the soup to be a bit thinner, add a little more stock. Taste for seasoning.
To prepare the hazelnuts and the bacon, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes, checking regularly, as they can burn quickly. To test them, take the tray out of the oven.
Potato, parsley and thyme soup with chorizo
Rachel says: A potato soup is so versatile and works superbly with spices, fresh herbs, pestos and drizzles. I prefer to use floury potatoes, rather than waxy, for the lightest, silkiest consistency. If reheating this soup, avoid prolonged simmering, to retain its silky texture. This soup is also delicious unblended and served chunky.
- 25g butter
- 350g peeled and chopped potatoes
- 150g peeled and chopped onions
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 250ml milk, or half milk and half cream
- 75g chorizo
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it foams. Add the chopped potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, then stir well and cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper. Add the pan lid and sweat over a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the potatoes sticking. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and cook until the vegetables are all tender. Add the chopped herbs and milk (or milk and cream), liquidize the soup and season to taste.
While the vegetables are cooking, peel the chorizo and cut into small dice. Pour the olive oil into a cool frying pan. Add the chorizo, then place the pan on a very low heat and gently cook for a few minutes, turning the chorizo every so often. Done over a very low heat like this, you’ll end up with beautifully cooked chorizo with the rich amber coloured oils rendered out. You want both the oils and the chorizo itself for drizzling over the soup when serving. Take off when it is crisp, reserving the rendered oil.
Reheat the soup if necessary, then pour into warm bowls and top with a few pieces of cooked chorizo, with a drizzle of the oil from the pan over the top. You can use leftover mash in place of some or all of the raw potato, but instead of adding at the start, stir it in when the milk goes in and continue as above. Other leftover vegetables, such as cooked carrots, broccoli, parsnips or even spinach, can be added with the milk, keeping in mind that you may need extra stock and milk to thin it out at the end.
Roasted parsnip, garlic and haricot bean soup with sage
Rachel says: This is a supremely smooth and silky soup, topped with deliciously crisp fried sage leaves. The garlic cloves, when roasted in their skins, deliver a sweet but rounded depth that I adore. A perfect soup for a cold blustery day.
- 3 medium or 2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
- 6 very large, whole unpeeled cloves of garlic (40g in total)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 x 400g tin of haricot beans (see notes)
- 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- a handful of sage leaves
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Place the parsnip and onion chunks in a roasting tray with the whole unpeeled cloves of garlic. Drizzle over the olive oil and toss the vegetables, seasoning with salt and pepper. Spread them out to cover the base of the roasting tray and place in the preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and a little golden around the edges. Drain the tin of beans and tip all but a generous tablespoon of beans into the vegetables. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more.
Take the tray out of the oven and tip the beans and vegetables and any delicious juices into a saucepan with the hot stock. Add the 1 tablespoon of chopped sage and blend the soup until smooth and silky. Season to taste.
To serve, pour the hot soup into warm bowls. Put the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small frying pan and allow to get hot. Add the sage leaves and fry for 10 to 15 seconds, until they turn a couple of shades darker and become fragrant. Spoon the sage flavoured oil and the crispy sage leaves over the soup with the reserved beans, and serve straight away.
If you’re cooking dried beans from scratch, you’ll need 125g of haricot (or cannellini) beans. Soak in plenty of cold water overnight or for at least 5 hours, then drain, cover with plenty of fresh cold water and boil for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.
Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (£22, Penguin) is out now
Photography: Maja Smend