British households discard 5m tonnes of food each year – from bread to bananas. But all of them have a role to play in making the perfect winter warmers
n those days when the weather seems intrinsically aligned with the state of the world at large – and with no end in sight – there is only one thing to do: make soup. Soup can be made from almost anything, with only a hob, a pan and a blender, and as little or as much effort as you want to expend. And, crucially, with appropriate seasoning, soup is instantly and comprehensively comforting.
Google pretty much any fresh ingredient and you’ll find there’s a soup recipe for it, which means making it comes with the added virtue of being good for the planet. According to the waste and sustainability charity Wrap, British households waste 5m tonnes of perfectly good food every year – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 100 times over. The leading culprits in these proms of shame are all things to make soup with (in fact, the list of what we most discard reads like its own soup recipe: potato, onion, carrot, milk, bread, cheese, ham). Here are some ideas to get you blending.
A few things to bear in mind. First, soup is an eminently flexible dish. Every main vegetable can be substituted with one or several others; any thin broth can be bolstered with cooked grains, bread or noodles. Second, the key to flavoursome food is time: with soup that means cooking down the flavour base your recipe starts with – whatever combo of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, anchovy, peppers etc – slowly. Third, a variety of textures will elevate your bowl of soup from baby food to satisfying dinner: be generous and playful with your garnishes. Everything I’ve suggested topping the soups with is interchangeable and accumulable. The hungrier you are, the more loaded your bowl can be. Finally, there is no soup that won’t benefit from a final squeeze of lemon and some flaky salt
For a nation of toasters (surely the first thing to do with a loaf that is going stale), Britain bins a baffling 20m slices every day. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Not only does bread make croutons with which to top any soup (fry them in olive oil with sliced garlic till crunchy), it makes soup, too. A cheat’s version of Natalia Conroy’s very slow-braised borlotti bean, parsley and bread soup is easily achieved with a can of beans (butter or cannellini will work just as well). Drain and fry with some combo of onions, garlic, celery, carrot and parsley, all finely chopped. Add canned tomatoes and a bunch of greens (kale, cavolo nero, spinach), both chopped, and cook until softened. Then blend half and add back into the pan, place wedges of stale white bread on top, and drench with lots of olive oil and hot water. Cook for 10 minutes, leave for another 10, then break up the bread and fold in to the rest. Serve garnished with more herbs and olive oil.
An umami-rich cream of mushroom soup is a great way to use some of the 3.1m glasses’ worth of milk we would otherwise pour down the drain each morning. Slowly fry 500g of mushrooms in butter with some finely sliced shallots or onions, then add to a pan of white sauce. When nicely browned, blend then return to the pan and dilute with more milk and some vegetable or chicken stock. Season to taste and top with crispy shallots and chives, a dash of double cream and a grind of black pepper.