The lull in festivities between Christmas and New Year can leave us feeling like addicts in need of a hit, another thrill. Except we've just done it all. What's left, go shopping? We did plenty of that before Christmas. It's time to stay at home, close the doors to the world and immerse yourself in the joys of making soup.
After the frenzy of pre-Christmas shopping, the chances are you have all sorts of choice leftovers that you don't necessarily want to consume in the same fashion as first time around. And assuming you opted for a turkey (or goose) then there is what ranks as the year's finest pot of stock to call on.
I am still bemused by the Christmas when my mother cooked a turkey weighing in at 15kg. So big that, not only did it dwarf any roasting tray, but there was no room for oven racks either, and she cooked it on the floor of the oven in tin foil. There was no rationale behind this size of bird, and yet as I placed my order this year, there was a small voice nagging, "bigger, just a few kilograms more". Justifiable if you take into account the stock and the many soups a big bird offers.
So treat my week-long soup fest seriously, and there should be almost no need to shop for food at all. I am happy to wallow in that sense of entrenchment, when you have everything you need and there is no real call to go out other than to stretch your legs, and you can relax in a way you rarely get the chance to at any other time. It's one hit you didn't get before Christmas.
If you haven't done so already, then it is time to bid farewell to slicing the turkey and ready it for the pot. A preserving pan or large casserole are the ideal here. You can include carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, a few sprigs of thyme tied with string, and bay leaves, but you will still produce a fine stock in their absence. A drop of wine, though, is a near-essential inclusion, so use up any odds and ends.
Should you have cooked a ham, then a stock made with the bone or the cooking liquor from poaching a gammon makes an excellent base for lentil and dried pea soups, providing they are not too salty, and ideally are unsmoked.
Place the turkey carcass or ham bone in a large pan, add the wine and cover with water by 2cm. A great deal of the art lies in bringing the liquid to the boil. It is fine to do this over a high heat, but reduce it to low before it boils furiously, otherwise you risk a cloudy – for which read "greasy" – stock, when it should be a lovely crystal gold.
So having brought it to the edge of a simmer, with just a few small bubbles rising almost imperceptibly, skim off any foam on the surface. Ham stock excepted, add a good teaspoon of salt and simmer for at least an hour, although in the case of turkey I leave it to bubble away for the best part of half a day until it is really golden.
Strain the stock and taste it. You can enrich its flavour further by simmering to reduce it, and certainly this makes sense if you have an excess and it is intended for the freezer. Otherwise, leave it to cool, then cover and chill. If you want to keep it longer than a few days, then simply bring it back to the boil, which will kill off any bacteria likely to taint its flavour. A jellied stock is always a good sign that you have a good rich broth. Either way, skim off any surface fat before using it.
"Fresh" stock is not always what it seems, so do read the small print and beware of words like "hydrolysed", and the addition of flavour enhancers and preservatives. Names to look out for are Joubère and Sainsbury's. If it is not up to scratch you will do better with a good brand of dried stock, such as Marigold. Knorr cubes are also good used either in small quantity or diluted beyond what is recommended, bearing in mind their salt content, which tends to have a chemical savour.
GLAM IT UP
Most soups can be souped up to serve at a dinner party. The last word in glamorous soups are those soup shots, bijoux cocktail glasses for handing round at drinks parties or as little appetisers before the main event. Given the washing up involved they're probably best left to restaurants and catering companies. On a more pragmatic note, a smattering of freshly chopped herbs at the end, be they parsley, coriander or chives, adds a spritz of perfume to what might otherwise be a bland bowlful. Or how about some silky fried onions and a squeeze of lemon, and that trusted drizzle of oil knows no bounds. If you happen to have been fortunate enough to have been given anything as exotic as, for instance, a bottle of Sicilian Ravida extra virgin olive oil, this makes a star turn.
Then of course there's cream. My vote here goes to crème fraiche, not only for the manner in which it melts but that slight acidity. Or, it could be a smidgen of garlic butter. Pretty much anything on toast is a goer – triangular rarebits or toasted slivers of baguette spread with pate, or smoked salmon to go with a leek and potato soup.
A poached egg makes a deliciously louche addition to all manner of vegetable and brothy soups. While almost any vegetable soup, from celeriac to mushroom, leek or broccoli will welcome the addition of melted cheese. Here you can scatter grated gruyere or abondance (or anything Swiss and gooey) over the base of the bowl – crumbled stilton is good too – and then ladle the piping hot soup on top.
Who could resist a dish called "dirty rice"? As delicious as it is grubby, it's a soupy-stew spiced with a Mallorcan pork blood sausage "butifarron" that muddies the colour and another chilli one called "sobrasada", with rice, shreds of chicken and pork fillet that are cooked with the stock, with all manner of vegetable goodies. It's a great template for this time of year – try using black pudding and spicy salamis in lieu of the sausages, while the turkey offers stock and tender strands of meat.
A Persian rhubarb soup might also sound unlikely but makes complete sense if you consider how the ingredients are balanced. Most soups call for a touch of acidity, be it in the form of tomatoes, crème fraiche or a glass of wine put in towards the beginning. Here, forced rhubarb cut into 1cm lengths and added to a vegetable and lamb (or it could be turkey) soup five minutes before the end, performs the same function. Along the same lines you could think of including a little diced apple in a celery and stilton soup, or pear. A drizzle of pomegranate syrup over a finished bowl also does the trick.
The biggest change in the fashion for soups recently has been the ever-heartier takes on them. It is now difficult to define the difference between many soups and stews. Such soups are nirvana during cold weather, with some bread and a cheeseboard to follow they are supper in themselves. As a blueprint for post-Christmas stewy-soup (to serve six), fry a little sliced leek, diced carrot and turnip in olive oil with a sprig of rosemary for about eight minutes until soft. Add a generous glass of wine and reduce by half, then 1.8 litres turkey stock, 600g diced potatoes, 150g green lentils, a crumbled dried chilli, simmer for 40 minutes then season with salt. Adapt this to whatever veggies you have, adding any leftover turkey, sausages or ham.
It's possible that you may have tired of meat come New Year, in which case a fish soup makes a good celebratory supper. The easiest take is a big pot of mussels. For a garlic butter mussel pot (to serve six), steam 3kg of mussels open in a covered pan over a high heat with a few chopped shallots and a glass of wine for five minutes. Dot with 75g garlic butter, cover and leave for a few minutes. Or for a classic moules marinière to serve two, fry a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped onion and shallot, and a garlic clove in vegetable oil for a minute. Add a small glass of wine and reduce by half, then add 1.7kg mussels, cover and cook for five to six minutes until opened. Stir in 70g crème fraiche and lots of chopped parsley.
Soup Glorious Soup by Annie Bell is published by Kyle Cathie, £14.99
Bacon and sage dumplings in broth
This kind of soup is reliant on a good homemade broth, so this is the perfect occasion. While the dumplings can be fashioned from leftover stuffing – you can always add a little chopped ham to a packet of sage and onion.
100g rindless streaky bacon, coarsely sliced
120g fresh white breadcrumbs
100g shredded suet
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
3 medium egg yolks
Sea salt, black pepper
800ml turkey or chicken stock
100ml white wine
Coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley and freshly grated Parmesan to serve
Place the bacon in the bowl of a food processor and finely chop it. Add the breadcrumbs, suet, sage, egg yolks, and some seasoning and whizz until the mixture looks sticky, then add just enough water for the dough to start to cling together in lumps. Shape the dough into balls the size of a cherry and place on a plate. Cover and chill them if not cooking in the near future.
To cook the dumplings, bring the stock and wine to the boil with a little salt in a large saucepan and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes. Then add the dumplings and poach, again over a low heat for another 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve scattered with parsley and lots of Parmesan.
Ham hock and split pea soup
In France there is a thriving tradition of artisanal producers of air-dried ham, and originally this soup was based on the knuckles or uncooked ham hocks that are a by-product. They need around a couple of hours cooking to render them desirably fork tender but, like most ham bones, do a fine job of releasing their gelatine and flavour into the broth. But you can adapt the soup for any kind of ham on the bone (preferably unsmoked), although you may need to tailor the cooking time if it is roasted.
750g ham hock
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
4 carrots, trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery heart, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 onions, peeled and chopped
500g yellow split peas
2.5 litres turkey stock or water
1 bay leaf
1 small dried red chilli, crumbled
Coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley to serve
Place the ham hock in a large saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil then drain it and set aside. Heat the olive oil in the same saucepan over a medium-low heat, add the carrot, celery and onion, and fry stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes until soft and aromatic. Rinse the split peas in a sieve under the cold tap, and add them to the pan.
Add the stock or water, the ham hock, the bay leaf and chilli. Bring to the boil, skimming in the process, then simmer over a low heat for 1 hour, and then cover and simmer for another hour, by which time the split peas should be nice and mushy, and the ham meltingly tender. Lift out the ham, peel off the rind and shred the flesh off the bone using a fork. Add this to the pan, and season to taste with salt. Serve splashed with oil and scattered with parsley. The soup sets solidly once cool, but can be reheated.