As the warm summer days slowly turn to the evening chill of those first autumn nights, one's thoughts, gastronomically speaking turn to those foods that warm the belly. Not the rib-sticking stews of winter quite yet, but something soothing and comforting which evokes the feeling when one lights the first fire of the season. A smooth, unctuous soup is, I believe one of these foods.

As a child I remember fresh, simple vegetable soups, made daily with whatever were the freshest ingredients available and the accompanying encouragement from my mother, " mange ta soupe et tu sera une grande fille" (eat your soup and you will be a big girl). A sentence reiterated around the world when trying to get small children to eat something that is good for them. But in truth, what could be better than a good soup.

Two soups come to my mind at this time of year. The first, a spicy carrot soup, is evocative of the scents from Morocco. It's very color a reflection of the spice stalls in the "attarine" or spice street in any souk in Morocco, dark orange and ochre, the color of cumin, paprika and saffron. Morocco, a land rich in culinary history, creating one of the finest Mediterranean cuisines is the inspiration for this soup. The second is defiantly more Gaelic in origin, the first course in a French bistro perhaps, inspired by the great onion soups of France. This leek and Stilton soup is rich and silky. The noble Stilton cheese bringing an unusual, nutty, buttery and seductive aspect to the soup, counterbalancing the onion-like nature of the leeks.  Accompanied by good, fresh bread and a glass of wine, what could be a better way to celebrate this season.

 

SIMPLE VEGETABLE STOCK

Makes 2 quarts

2 1/ 4 quarts cold water
2 large yellow onions – unpeeled and quartered (if the onions have any dirt on the skin then peel it)
4 carrots – peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery – washed and roughly chopped
1-2 leeks – carefully cleaned, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
1-2 bay leaves
Large pinch coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan placed over medium-high heat. Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered for 30 minutes. Strain carefully through a fine sieve into a large clean container. This is best used within 24 hours. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

SAUTEED VEGETABLE STOCK

Makes 2 quarts

Olive oil
2 large yellow onions – unpeeled and quartered (if the onions have any dirt on the skin then peel it)
4 carrots – peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery – washed and roughly chopped
1-2 leeks – carefully cleaned, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
1-2 bay leaves
Large pinch coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/ 4 quarts cold water

  1. Pour a little olive oil into a large saucepan placed over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened and transulcent. Add the remaining ingredients except the water, and cook for a further 5 minutes. Pour the water over the vegetables and bring the stock to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered for 30 minutes. Strain carefully through a fine sieve into a large clean container. This is best used within 24 hours. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

MOROCCAN CARROT SOUP

Serves 8 people

1 Large onion -finely chopped

2 lbs carrots -peeled and thinly sliced 3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon allspice

8 tablespoons yogurt

2 tablespoons cilantro -finely chopped

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter is foaming, add the onion and the garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
  2. Add the carrot slices to the onions and cook for a further 5 minutes. Then add the spices, salt and pepper and cook a further 5 minutes. Finally add the chicken stock and bring to a strong simmer. Cook the soup a further 20 minutes or until the carrots are very soft.
  3. Once the carrots are cooked, puree the soup so that it is very smooth. You can do this in a blender, a Cuisinart or with a hand held blender. Return the soup to the saucepan and re-check the seasoning, adding salt if necessary.
  4. In a small bowl mix the yogurt with the cilantro. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and then put 1 tablespoon of the yogurt mixture into each bowl. Serve immediately.

 

LEAK AND STILTON SOUP

Serves 8 people

6 leaks – green parts trimmed, the white stalks washed, cut lengthwise in half and then finely chopped

2 medium sized yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into medium sized pieces

olive oil

salt and pepper

2 sprigs fresh thyme

8 cups chicken stock

8 oz Stilton Cheese - crumbled

  1. In a large saucepan or stockpot heat a little olive oil and then add the chopped leaks and onions. Cook for 5 minutes until soft but not browned.
  2. Add the potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and cook a further 3 – 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until the potatoes are very soft. Approx. 20-25 minutes. Remove the thyme.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked, puree the soup (in batches if necessary) until it is very smooth. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan and stir in the crumbled stilton until it melts and is thoroughly incorporated into the soup. Check the seasoning of the soup, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

 

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