Nobody would ever think that a soup put together in a matter of minutes could be anything other than a chipped cuppa of Batchelor's instant or a warmed-through orange bowl of Heinz tomato (and, yes, it is orange). But with only a minimum amount of mastery and a little forethought as to a basic stock, almost any variety of soup (both hot and cold) can be prepared in moments throughout spring and summer, using seasonal produce as it appears in the shop or is picked from your garden.
As well as being speedy to make, these soups will also be fresh tasting and vibrant, with the amount of cooking time dictated by the main ingredient; some will, in fact, be quickly cooked by the reaction of a hot stock. In all cases, this will be a light chicken broth, made ahead of time and frozen. It does not have to be frozen, of course; a good, jellied chicken broth will keep in the fridge for at least four days without spoiling. But keeping plenty of the broth frozen (preferably in 400ml/34 pint pots, enough for two) will enable you to dazzle your friends and acquaintances more often than you could possibly imagine.
Basic chicken broth, makes 1.75 litres/3 pints
900g/2lb chicken wings or, failing that, drumsticks, roughly chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
3 leeks, trimmed, chopped and washed
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, bashed
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 chicken stock cube
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
6 parsley sprigs
2.8 litres/5 pints water
Put all the ingredients for the broth into a large pan, bring up to a simmer, skim off any resultant froth and cook at the merest "blip" for 3 hours. Pour through a colander into a clean pan and leave to drain and drip for 15 minutes. Remove any fat from the surface with several sheets of absorbent kitchen paper. Cool and then ladle into 4 containers, measuring out 400ml/34 pint amounts. Put lids on and freeze. To defrost, either use a microwave oven or tip straight into a pan and heat through over a low heat.
Spring and summer soups, to serve 2
Think ahead a little when you go shopping, so that some of the following ingredients are often at hand. Things like parsley, spinach and watercress keep well in the fridge once they have been washed, shaken and loosely stored in plastic bags.
Heat a container of broth and add 110g/4oz chopped sorrel leaves. Tip into a liquidiser and blend till smooth with an egg yolk. Pour into a clean pan and add 4 tablespoons double cream. Check for seasoning. Cook very gently over a low heat, stirring constantly, but do not boil, or the egg yolk will scramble. This classic French soup, potage germiny, can be served hot or cold.
Alternatively, add a small peeled potato to the broth, chopped into very small cubes and washed, and then cooked for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the sorrel and cream, heat through and then liquidise. Don't bother with the egg yolk. Strain into a pan, check the seasoning and reheat as before.
As for sorrel soup, but substitute watercress for sorrel.
Heat a carton of broth and add 110g/4oz fresh shelled peas with 6 mint leaves (you may use frozen peas, but the soup can turn out quite sweet). Simmer gently for 10 minutes, liquidise, and strain back into the pan. Add 4 tablespoons double cream, check for seasoning and gently reheat. Serve with croutons.
Heat a carton of broth with 110g/4oz shelled broad beans and - if you can find some - a few leaves of summer savory; otherwise substitute fresh tarragon or, once again, mint. For this soup, it is useful to have one of those mouli-legumes (a vegetable mill); this will happily leave the skins behind as the flesh of the bean is forced through with the broth. Add 4 tablespoons of double cream (optional here, as you may prefer this soup without added richness), reheat and serve.
Take a healthy bunch of flat-leafed parsley and remove leaves. Chop stalks finely and add to 1 carton of broth with a small potato, peeled and chopped. Simmer for 10 minutes. Blanch the leaves in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute, strain, and refresh under very cold running water. Squeeze out in a clean tea towel and place in a liquidiser. Pour on the parsley stalk/potato broth and blend. Strain through a fine sieve back into the pan and add 4 tablespoons double cream. This soup is especially fragrant; it is remarkable that parsley can taste so good.
Other, similarly instantaneous soups can be prepared using ingredients such as young spinach leaves, the tender parts of purple sprouting broccoli, sprue (very thin asparagus), or a combination of chopped new potatoes, tomato and basil. Then you can make soup with tender small leeks and potato, a classic in its own right, served hot or cold - as in vichyssoise. There really is plenty to play around with in the coming months, so get that broth made now