Steamy stuff: Sophie Conran reveals her favourite soup and stew recipes

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The nights may be drawing in, but the food writer Sophie Conran is on hand to supply warmth and comfort – in the shape of her favourite soup and stew recipes

From light and delicate to filling and warming, there's a soup or stew for every mood and occasion. A steaming pot is a delight to behold and once placed in front of you, can dissolve all your worries.

A fine line separates stew from soup. The ingredients of a stew may have to be chunkier than those of a soup and retain more of their individual flavours; a stew may have thicker liquid and is more likely to be eaten as a main course. The choice of name is largely a matter of custom, as the only thing a soup can be that a stew is definitely not, is smooth.

Both are inexpensive to make, and the beautiful thing about them is they can nearly always be stretched a little further, so are accommodating if an extra guest turns up. Plus, they improve with age, as the flavours mature and become more fabulous. A three-day-old stew is a rare thing (having usually been gobbled up in minutes), but a truly delicious one.

The following recipes are taken from Sophie Conran's book 'Soups and Stews' (Collins, £14.99), which is out next month.

Moules marinières

Humans have been eating mussels for thousands of years and still continue to do so with slurps and glee – in Belgium and the Netherlands in particular, where they are likely to be served with chips and mayonnaise… perfection. This version is the classic French dish, cooked in butter, wine, onions, parsley and cream. The delightful juices should be mopped up at the end of a good meal with some crusty baguette. Extra bowls for shells and big napkins are always a good idea.

Serves 4-6

1kg/2lb mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
50g/2oz butter
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A pinch of saffron threads
175ml/6fl oz white wine
200ml/7fl oz fish stock
200ml/7fl oz double cream
A bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


Discard any mussels that don’t close when tapped. Now melt the butter in a large pan with a lid and gently fry the shallots for 10 minutes, being careful not to brown them. Sprinkle on the saffron, splash in the wine and leave to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until all the wine has evaporated and the shallots are a wonderful golden-brown colour.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then dump in the mussels. Slam on the lidand give the pot a good shake. Simmer for five minutes, then take the mussels out of the pot, using tongs if you have them, and pop into a bowl. Bin any that have not opened fully.

Glug the cream into the soup and scatter in the parsley, then heat throughand gently simmer for five minutes. Put the mussels back in the pan, shake once more with the lid on, heat for a couple of minutes, then ladle into bowls, dividing the soup evenly between them. Serve with crusty bread.

Butternut squash and sausage soup

This is a favourite with my kids. It can be made with all sorts of roast vegetables, but the sweetness and texture of squash make it a great ingredient. Slice the sausages as you like or leave them out for a veggie dish.

Serves 8-10

7 juniper berries
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
6 pure pork sausages
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas5. Crush the juniper berries and caraway seeds with a pestle and mortar. Put all the veg, the oil, spices and seasoning in a large roasting pan and mix with your hands until the veg are well coated with the oil and spices. Pop into the oven for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are golden and soft, turning over once halfway through cooking to ensure they are evenly roasted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Meanwhile, fry the sausages in a large pan.

Purée the vegetables with enough water to give a lovely soupy consistency and season to taste. Remove the sausages from the pan and slice them. Pour the soup into the pan, add the sausages, stir through then reheat.

Fragrant chicken stew

This dish is full of wonderful aromatic ingredients that make a homely and lip-smacking dinner.

Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large chicken, cut into eight pieces
1 walnut-sized knob of butter
3 small red onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 walnut-sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 3cm/1in cubes
4 large tomatoes, each cut into eight pieces
A pinch of saffron threads
500ml/18fl oz good chicken stock
2 strips of lemon zest (use a potato peeler)
A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pot with a lid on a medium to high heat and brown the chicken pieces on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pot and put them aside on a plate until needed.

Reduce the heat, add the butter to the pot and gently fry the onions, stirring from time to time, until soft – about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, ginger and cumin and cook for two minutes, then add the squash to the pot and gently fry for five minutes, making sure it does not burn. Stir in the tomatoes, saffron and stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat.

Submerge the chicken pieces and lemon zest in the vegetables, then season well with salt and pepper. Give it a final stir, put on the lid and pop it in the oven for one hour. Take out of the oven, season to taste and stir in the chopped parsley.

This is lovely served with rosemary, roast new potatoes and cooked spinach that has been tossed in warm butter and nutmeg. '

Lemon chicken with spinach

This is a fresh and healthy dish, bursting with gorgeous flavours

Serves 8

2 tbsp olive oil
8 fat or 16 small chicken thighs
50g/2oz butter
2 onions peeled and sliced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon, cumin and coriander
1 walnut-sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
250g/9oz baby new potatoes, cut in half
400g/14oz tin of chickpeas drained
500ml/18fl oz good chicken stock
400g/14oz young spinach, washed
Grated zest of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil on a medium to high heat in a large pan with a lid. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat, dump the butter and onions into the pan and sautée for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle in all the spices, the ginger, garlic, some salt and a really good grind of pepper. Stir through and gently fry for five minutes.

Add the potatoes, chickpeas and stock and return the chicken to the pan. Leave to simmer for 45 minutes. Stir in half the spinach and the lemon zest and cook down for five minutes. Add the rest of the spinach and cook for a further 20 minutes. Season to taste and serve with basmati rice and a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Ribollita

This is a Tuscan soup with wonderful earthy flavours. I like to add the pigeon breasts on top since it is one of my favourite meats and complements the soup wonderfully. You might want to use a knife and fork for this one.

Serves 6-8

3 tsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
100g/3oz pancetta, cut into little sticks
50g/2oz butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, trimmed, and finely chopped
1 leek, cleaned, trimmed and finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp fresh, finely chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
11/2 litres/2 pints chicken stock
400g/14oz tin of pinto, cannellini or navy beans with liquid
1 head of cavolo nero, leaves only, chopped
6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
1 pigeon breast per person
1 slice of ciabatta per person, toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot and fry the pancetta until it browns slightly and the fat runs out. Sling in another tablespoon of oil and dollop in the butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery and leek and gently fry for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Stir in the garlic, rosemary and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in the stock and beans and stir in the cavolo nero and tomatoes. Bring to the boil and season to taste. Boil gently for 30 minutes.

Ladle out three spoonfuls of the soup and blend to a purée, then return to the pot. Top the soup up with a little water if it looks dry. Towards the end of the cooking time, make the toast. Season the pigeon breasts and fry in the remaining oil for about four minutes on each side, or until browned on the outside but still a lttle pink inside. Remove to a board and leave to sit for about five minutes, then cut into 1cm/half-inch-thick slices.

Ladle the soup into bowls, lay a slice of toast on top and place a pigeon breast on the toast. Sprinkle over a few thyme leaves, drizzle with oil and serve.

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