I know, I know, it’s been a million years. But, as a quick glance at the previous two posts will reveal, there have been reasons. But I refuse to be beaten by an ill-advised foray into draft beer at a festival.
So I’ve had to adapt. Lactose, in the form of milk, cream and most forms of soft cheese, is emphatically out. I have to be careful with fat. But everything else is fine, including wine (and for someone who spends time editing wine books, that’s a big plus). Current wine find? I can’t quite believe it, but Tesco’s ‘Finest’ Soave Superiore Classico is amazing value for money.
And the whole thing got me thinking about food I really enjoy. Not about great glistening mounds of roast pork, huge piles of meringues stuffed with cream: they belong in the past. But about things which I can really enjoy without fear of sparking anything off. Bread. Beautiful sourdough, crisply crusty and delicious; soda breads, sharp and tasty, breads flavoured with carraway, olives or herbes de Provence. Roast chicken, sans, naturally these days, the skin. Soups… and the latter prompted me to remember a soup which I once loved very much indeed.
I was a baby bookseller in London, paid very little. My friends, almost without exception, were in similar straits. I used to go to a – well, what was it? Not really a restaurant. A canteen? That’s more like it. It was run by a church, not sure which one, but it was vegetarian, as was I at the time. (They weren’t Buddhist; I was queueing to pay when one of the precise young men on the till killed a fly. ‘That’s not very Buddhist,’ said the man in front of me, mildly. ‘I am NOT A BUDDHIST!’ yelled the cashier, going red in the face and clenching his fists; he was hurried away by a companion. So, not Buddhist.) It was in a basement, and I remember it as dark and cosy and a favourite haunt of a potter friend.
We used to go there regularly, and I was always overjoyed if a particular soup was on the menu. It wasn’t, often, but come the colder months it could be found more reliably. I’ve messed with trying to recreate it, but I think I’ve finally got there.
Potato and dill soup
(serves 3, or 4 with more liquid)
I tsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g potatoes, partly peeled and chopped (floury: Maris Piper are ideal)
1 bay leaf
800ml vegetable stock
1 tsp freeze-dried dill tops (if using fresh, add more)
Warm the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and sweat the onion down; don’t let it catch. Then add the garlic and the potatoes and swirl them around in the softened onions. Add the bay leaf and the stock and bring to the boil. Then lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 12-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nice and soft. Then add the dill and cook for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and blend the soup: it should be smooth and thick, so it’s probably best to use a stand rather than a stick blender. Check for seasoning, and serve with crusty bread.
(Add extra liquid at the blending stage, if wished – but go easy. My failed recreations were often too watery.)
I am so pleased that I’ve got there – the bay leaf made all the difference. And it tastes almost as good as it did when I was a 22-year-old impoverished bookseller, sitting on a communal table in a dark basement and putting the world to rights in my lunch break.