A Soup Ensemble

Stuffed baby pumpkins

Soups are a relatively inexpensive choice for your starter and you can take full advantage of all the wonderful seasonal vegetables available. Rather than just serving one soup, I often serve two or three different soups on a large dinner plate in small coffee cups or bowls, which actually requires very little additional effort when it comes to serving (use a warmed jug for ease of pouring). If using coffee cups, your guests don't even need spoons!

This trio, or duet of soups always provides a great wow factor at the beginning of the meal as you get lots of lovely little flavour hits without being awash with an enormous pool of soup. Obviously, you can just serve one of the following if you can't face the thought of making more, as they are all equally tasty. All can be made well in advance and frozen and all the recipes will serve six people.

If you are going for the smaller servings, just measure out in the serving vessels you are proposing to use the exact amount that you will require and freeze that separately. For the garnish, you can just grind a little pepper over or add a sprinkling of chopped parsley or a blob of cream, crème fraîche or natural yoghurt - whatever you prefer.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Garlic Soup

  • Serves 6
  • 6 medium sweet potatoes (£1.24 per kg)
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil or 25g butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 litre / 1 3/4 pints chicken or vegetable stock, or enough to cover but not drown the vegetables
  • a little milk

Parsnip, Apple and Thyme Soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme (79p per pack)
  • 4 or 5 parsnips, peeled and chopped (£1.45 per kg)
  • 1 large Bramley or 2 medium sized tart eating apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 litre / 1 3/4 pints chicken or vegetable stock or enough to just cover the vegetables

Mushroom Soup

  • 25g butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 900g mushrooms (£1.15 per family pack)
  • 600ml / 1 pint chicken or vegetable stock
  • 600ml / 1 pint warm milk
  • 25g flour

Roasted Sweet Potato and Garlic Soup

This recipe is easy (you don't even have to peel the potatoes) but relatively lengthy because of roasting the vegetables. It is worth the time - the combination of roasted garlic and tuber is divine.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas Mark 6.
  2. 1 Wash the potatoes but don't bother peeling them. Cut them into thin slices or small cubes.
  3. 2 Put them in a bowl with the garlic, salt and pepper and mix them altogether. Place in a suitably sized ovenproof dish, cover with foil, place in the oven and cook for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and cook roast for another 10 minutes.
  4. 3 Meanwhile, sweat the onions gently in the oil/butter until soft. Remove the potatoes from the oven and add to the onions. Pour over sufficient stock to cover adding a little warmed milk as well (warming the milk prevents curdling). Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool a little, then liquidise and the soup is ready.

Parsnip, Apple and Thyme Soup

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook gently until soft.
  2. Add the thyme, parsnips and apples and give it all a good stir. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the stock and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes until the parsnips are soft.
  4. Puree the soup and taste. If looking for a creamier flavour, add a little warmed milk (or cream if you happen to have some lurking in the fridge).

Mushroom Soup

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat and toss in the onions. Cover and sweat until the onions are completely soft.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms up very finely and add to the pan and cook over a high heat for a few minutes.
  3. Lower the heat, sprinkle in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add enough stock and milk to just cover the vegetables, stirring all the time. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes or for longer if you want a more concentrated mushroomy flavour... and that's it!

Caroline's passion for cooking was inspired by her mother, a home economist, from whom she acquired most of her cookery skills. She has also trained at cookery schools in France and Italy and Leith's Cookery School in London. Caroline is a Wine Scholar and holds a Diploma in Wines and Spirits. She can be contacted at chefsbananasandcheesecake@gmail.com

WT

  • Photographs David Merewether
  • Words and recipes Caroline Samuels