There is a moment, about now, when the earth starts to wake up and smell, not in a too-many-dogs-not-enough-flowers way but more in a, well, earthy sort of way. I absolutely love it. I crave light more than warmth so that shift means more to me than anything. As a child it meant being able to ‘play out’ as we called it and as an adult it means the same thing in some ways. Suddenly my terrace is not a dumping ground for bits of debris but somewhere to sit. Suddenly the prospect of walking home is more appealing than the bus (actually, that might always be the case if you ever use the 29…) and, suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, the appeal of shedding one of the three jumpers I usually wear to work from home is much greater than the desire to be cosy.
It’s the same with the food I cook. Last night, for example, for the first time this year, I made granola, since toasted oatiness on yogurt for breakfast is starting to seem more desirable than porridge. And I can almost imagine, though I doubt I’ll succumb to it just yet, having a salad not a soup. Which means that the debris of vaguely wintry ingredients in my fridge (celery, Savoy cabbage, Cheddar) needs using up before the feta-fetish kicks in for another year.
I have a blackboard in my kitchen which is starting to be known as the ‘use up’ board. On it I write all the perishables that need to be cooked and eaten, to remind myself that, even with the tiniest fridge in the world, it is still possible to lose plenty of green freshness to the great god of sulky yellowness. Last week it had Savoy cabbage on it. And, although it’s an ingredient which I’ve become very fond of during my continuing frugality, I couldn’t face wok-frying it or stuffing it again so I went looking for a new use. I found it in Plenty, a book which truly lives up to its name and, what’s more, it was a recipe for which I had everything, probably the single most likely reason for me to try it.
Like Nigel Slater’s recipe for leek soup, this one uses something that you might be tempted to throw away but, hopefully once you’ve tried this, you will guard in a little plastic box for months. Parmesan rinds (the end of the cheese that won’t do anything useful on your grater) added to soup create the sort of thick, creamy savouriness that is usually impossible without milk, cream or salt. Suddenly Savoy cabbage, like earth, takes on a whole new scent. And it’s a bloody delicious one.
Savoy cabbage and Parmesan soup (adapted from Plenty)
For two portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil, 3 tablespoons
½ onion, or one small one
1 small garlic clove or, again, ½ a large one
½ medium potato, or, again, ½ a large one
vegetable stock, 900ml (you may not need it all)
40g Parmesan rind
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Savoy cabbage, medium
caraway seeds, ¼ teaspoon
mild chilli, ½ a small one
1. Peel, top and tail and slice the onion. Peel, top and tail and crush the garlic clove. Peel the potato and dice it (and store in a bowl of water if you’re doing the prep in advance). Snip up the chilli and keep to one side.
2. Heat 1½ tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Sauté it over a medium heat until soft then add the garlic and caraway seeds and cook for a couple more minutes.
3. Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, remove four of the outer cabbage leaves, rinse, shred finely and put to one side. Then rinse and shred the rest of the cabbage leaves, discarding the hard heart/stalk, and add them to the garlic and onions with the diced (and drained, if necessary) potato.
4. Cook all the vegetables together for another 5 minutes or so then just cover with stock and bring to the boil.
5. Add the Parmesan rind(s), lower the heat and simmer until the potato is tender (depending on the size of your dice this will take 5-10 minutes).
6. Take out the Parmesan rinds and discard. They don’t dissolve so need fishing out before you blend the soup, if you don’t want it to be gritty.
7. Take the soup off the heat, leave it to cool for a few minutes then blend it until smooth. Check the seasoning and dilute with a little more stock if it is too thick. Reheat gently.
8. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a frying pan or wok, add the reserved shredded cabbage, the chilli and a little salt and cook together until the cabbage is just the other side of raw, softening but not soggy.
9. Serve the soup garnished with the chilli-salt cabbage.