There is something grounding about a bowl of broth. A glistening stock to bring us back to earth. It is where so many recipes start, but I like it as it stands, to eat as a sustaining soup, the brown liquor ladled into deep bowls; the steam aromatic and bosky from dried mushrooms and woody herbs.
No bones are needed. The backbone comes from dried shiitake or cepes, onions browned in the oven and tough stalks of thyme. The broth is the soul and benefits from the usual onion, carrot and celery, bay leaves and a splash from the bottom of a bottle – sherry, marsala or sake. You could add juniper berries if you wish or coriander seeds. It is ready in half an hour.
To the broth I will add sweet, roasted vegetables – tiny potatoes, artichokes (the noisy variety) and large shallots or small onions whose layers have been cooked until they are soft and melting. Any winter vegetables will also be welcome here – carrots, parsnips – and maybe some cooked pasta, such as rice-shaped orzo or stelline, miniature stars to twinkle in the smoky depths.
Potatoes have once again become daily visitors to this kitchen. This week I brought them to the table in a cast-iron pan, Maris Pipers thinly sliced and layered with sweet onions, thyme leaves and garlic. The most humble of offerings until I brought out a lump of taleggio to slice and melt over the top.
Roast artichokes and onions, vegetable broth
The artichoke season is short and I make the most of them, but small potatoes, perhaps a waxy variety like Charlotte, would be an admirable substitute, or parsnips, cut into short pieces. They are most delicious added just after roasting so they are still crisp from the oven. Serves 4Advertisement
For the broth:
onion 1, or large banana shallot
groundnut or vegetable oil 1 tbsp
carrots 2, medium
celery 1 stick
bay leaves 3
water 1.5 litres
shiitake mushrooms handful (15g)
dry sherry or sake 150ml
For the roast vegetables:
banana shallots 4, or small onions
Jerusalem artichokes 400g
groundnut or vegetable oil 4 tbsp
For the crumbs:
groundnut or olive oil 1 tbsp
fresh white breadcrumbs 60g
dill fronds 5g
To make the broth, peel and halve the onion, warm the oil in a pan and lightly brown the onion. Scrub the carrots and roughly chop them, together with the celery, then add them to the pan, letting them colour a little, then add the bay leaves and water. Drop in the shiitake mushrooms and pour in the sherry or sake, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour through a sieve and discard the vegetables and aromatics.
Make the roasted vegetables. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the shallots or onions, cut them in half and place them cut side down in a large roasting tin. Scrub the artichokes, cut them in half lengthways, then snuggle them among the onions. Trickle over the oil, season with salt, then bake for 45-50 minutes until tender and the shallots are nicely golden-brown.
While they are cooking, make the herb crumbs. Warm the oil in a shallow pan, then tip in the breadcrumbs. They will fizz in the oil. Toss them around a little so they colour evenly. They need to be lightly crisp and a deep golden colour. Finely chop the parsley leaves and dill fronds and mix with the crumbs.
Bring the broth to the boil. Transfer the artichokes and onions into soup dishes, ladle over the hot broth, then scatter with herbs and crumbs.
Potatoes with olive oil, garlic and rosemary
‘Brought to the table in a cast-iron pan’: potatoes with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
Thinly sliced potatoes are best here, crisping nicely on the surface and baking to a melting consistency underneath. I’m sure a mandolin slicer is best for giving thin, crisp-like slices, but I don’t trust myself with one, so I slice them as thin as I can with a large kitchen knife instead. The potatoes will soak up most of the oil, but there will be a little left in the dish to spoon over as you serve. Serves 4
potatoes 1kg, Maris Piper or similar
olive oil 100 ml, plus a little extra
rosemary leaves 10g
onions 2, medium
garlic 2 cloves
You will need a 25cm ovenproof frying pan that doesn’t stick.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Scrub the potatoes and slice very thinly. Pour half the oil into a large mixing bowl. Finely chop half the rosemary, leaving the rest on their stems, and add to the onions. Grind in a little black pepper and salt, then add the potatoes and gently turn them over in the seasoned oil.
Peel the onions and slice very thinly. Peel and finely slice the garlic. Pour the other half of the olive oil into a shallow pan and place over a moderate heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring regularly until they are soft and pale gold. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the onions to the mixing bowl and toss them with the potatoes. Cover the base of the pan with a single layer of slices, each overlapping the other and adding a little salt as you go. Place a second layer on top, then another and so on. Pour any remaining oil and herbs from the bowl over the top.
Bake the potatoes in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until the top layer is golden and lightly crisp at the edges. Test that they are completely cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest part. It should slide in effortlessly.