Sunday, January 8, 2012

Newsflash: Potatoes Are Not Actually The Devil

I heard the expression 'no carbs before Marbs' the other day and I nearly had a meltdown with the laughter, possibly pulling a stomach muscle, and hopefully fitting in some accidental, unintentional abdominal exercise in there as well. Apparently it's from some Only Way Is Essex fitness dvd and, to enlighten the bewildered among you, means 'no carbohydrates before Marbella', i.e. deny yourself delicious things like bread and pasta for a bit and you will be a confident, flat-stomached (if starving and cranky) creature by the time you hit the beach in Spain. Now, I know that this is January, traditionally the month of penury and self discipline. I know that we all tucked into the cheese and the Celebrations with wanton abandon there for a month, in between pickling our livers with wine and beer and eating leftovers from dinner the day before in between two heavily buttered slices of bread as a mid-morning snack. And I know that there are very few of us who aren't a little pale and wobbly after the excesses of the season, slightly disgusted with ourselves and determined to reform our unhealthy ways. But come on, now, lets have a little perspective, please. Lets be nice to ourselves. It's not the cheeriest of months, after all, and, personally speaking, there is nothing more likely to make me miserable than to have to deny myself food of any sort, not to mention an entire category of food. That silly Atkins diet business really gave some perfectly tasty and nutritious foods a bad name. Take the lovely spud, for example. Sure, if you smother it in butter and salt it's not exactly health food, but with a little less embellishment, it is full of extremely admirable qualities, in particular vitamins C, B6 and potassium. Now, would you put down that ridiculous exercise dvd, get yourself out for a big old walk in that lovely mild weather we're having and then reward yourself with this delicious potato soup when you get home.

I got this recipe from the latest issue of Jamie mag, which has a lovely piece featuring soup recipes shared by various food writers. This particular recipe calls for baked potatoes; I was using up the flagging veggies that were languishing in my kitchen, so rather than baked spuds I boiled up some baby potatoes that were in need of eating (the eagle-eyed among you will pick up on those last few words as an excuse that I regularly employ to eat when it is not strictly necessary). I really wasn't bothered pulling out the kitchen scales for this one, and I think with soup recipes it's not essential. Along with the potatoes, the rind of a block of parmesan adds a wonderful depth of flavour. I had been saving a load of them in the fridge and only threw them out recently - I get the impression that they are to be frozen rather than merely refrigerated. There was some parmesan hanging out in the fridge, anyhow, but I think that I shall be making a little foodie new years ressie to be more organised in that respect.

So: chop up your onion, melt a good big lump of butter in your soup pot and then let the onion soften in that for about ten minutes. Pop the potatoes and parmesan rind in there for five minutes.

Add 1.25 litres of stock - I used chicken - and let it all simmer away for 30 minutes. Before you crack it all into your blender to whizz it up into velvety smoothness, don't forget to take out that parmesan rind. And, of course, season away goodo.

Oh would you look at it! The richness of it; you can thin it down with stock, but I found that a great deal of the joy of this soup was the indulgent thickness of it.

Now, the recipe says that you can top if off with sour cream, chives, cheese, bacon - think of the kind of things that you might put on a steaming baked spud right out of the oven. I am not entirely ignoring that this is January, however. I wasn't up for buying something that was going to add calories to my soup or require traipsing to the shop. When I chopped the rind off the parmesan in the fridge, I contemplated putting the remaining parmesan on top of the soup. Then I ate it. Out to the garden with me for some rosemary, and it added a fittingly January-esque virtuousness to the dish: zero euro, fat free and bursting with flavour.

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