Nigel Slater’s vegetarian and vegan soup recipes for spring

Nigel Slater

Whenever I find watercress in fine condition, I buy enough to make not only salad but also a pot of emerald soup. By “fine condition” I mean large-leaved, thick-stemmed and with leaves of deepest green. Watercress as it should be, with glossy, deeply peppery leaves, bursting with health. Watercress with spirit.

As salad leaves go, watercress is the most difficult to keep in fine fettle, such is its love (and need) for cool, clear, running water. Bunches used to be sold on the streets of Victorian London by “watercress girls” who would regularly refresh the leaves from the city’s many water pumps.

Up until a few years ago, greengrocers would stock bunches in white, waxed cartons, which they would mist-spray throughout the day to keep fresh. A decent bunch is now a rare sight in my neck of the woods, replaced by the milder “landcress”, which is to my mind a wimpish version.

Another green joy of shopping in spring is finding bunches of carrots with a feathery plume of leaves attached. They make a spicy little pesto when pounded or blended with pine nuts, garlic and basil. (I use almonds as the price of the best-quality, slim pine nuts is now beyond belief.) I don’t add parmesan, but you certainly could.

Such a vibrant paste is a dazzling addition to a carrot soup or as dressing for new potatoes fresh from the steamer.

Watercress soup and Caerphilly palmiers

You can use landcress at a push. The palmiers can be made in advance, chilled overnight and baked the next day.

Serves 4

shallots 2, large
garlic 1 clove
butter 20g
potatoes 200g
vegetable stock 750ml, hot
watercress 350g (leaves and stems)
single cream optional

Peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic. Melt the butter in a deep pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, without colour, for 7-10 minutes until soft. Stir regularly to prevent them colouring.

Peel and roughly chop the potatoes and stir into the shallots. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Have a large mixing bowl of water with ice cubes in it to hand. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the watercress and cook for 30 seconds. Then remove and plunge the watercress immediately into the iced water. Drain the watercress as soon as it is cold, add to the potatoes and stock, then reduce to a thick soup using a blender. Taste and correct the seasoning. Check the heat and texture, and, if you wish, introduce a little cream. Serve with the palmiers (below).

Caerphilly palmiers

I suggest a mature, farmhouse Caerphilly here, but use whatever cheese you have to hand.

Makes about 20

puff pastry sheet 325g, thawed

Caerphilly cheese 100g, finely grated

dijon mustard 1 tbsp

egg 1

parmesan a little, finely grated

Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle about 30cm x 20cm. Turn the pastry so the long side is facing you. Mix together the grated cheese and mustard, grind in a little black pepper and dot over the pastry. Roll up the left hand side of the pastry tightly towards the middle, then stop when you reach the middle. Repeat with the right hand side, so the 2 tight rolls touch.

Break the egg into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork to combine yolk and white, then brush a little along the edges of each roll and press together to seal. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove the roll of pastry from the fridge, cut into 20 pencil-thick slices, then place each slice flat-side down on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between them for each to rise. Brush the sides of the pastries with a little egg, then sprinkle the uppermost surface with some parmesan.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen, crisp and golden. Remove from the baking sheet and Serve with the soup.

Carrot soup with carrot leaf pesto

The soup’s flavour and texture will vary according to your carrots. Thin carrots will produce a less thick soup, so you may need to adjust the water.
Serves 2-3

carrots 450g (with leaves and stems)
garlic 1 clove
olive oil 2 tbsp
water 750ml
thyme leaves 2 tsp

For the pesto
carrot stems and leaves (from above) 50g
garlic 1 small clove
almonds 50g, skinned
basil leaves and stems 40g
olive oil 150ml

Remove the stems and leaves from the carrots, pick the leaves from the stems and set aside. You will need 50g of leaves.

Roughly chop the carrots. Peel the garlic. Warm the oil in a deep saucepan over a moderate heat, add the carrots and the garlic and let the carrots cook for about 10 minutes until they colour lightly, stirring occasionally. The toasting will deepen their flavour. Pour in the water, bring to the boil, add salt and the thyme leaves and simmer for about 25 minutes until the carrots are thoroughly tender.

Use a stick blender to reduce the carrots to a soup and set aside.

Make the pesto: put the reserved carrot leaves in a food processor or blender, peel and add the garlic, skinned almonds and basil, add salt then process to a coarse paste, adding the oil as the blades turn.

Courtesy: theguardian