Friday, March 11, 2005

the great soup debate

simple vegetable soup - butternut squash, cauliflower and blue cheese

we recently went to sheepdrove organic farm in berkshire it is a really incredible place. we were late in getting there and missed a rather comical tour of the farm in which the happy, content animals were able to catch a glimpse of londoners out of their natural habitat; without latte in hand and getting mud on their 4x4 cars. we did manage to catch a presentation about the farm by peter kindersley. it was an extremely thought provoking discussion on the history of the farm and their farming techniques. the farm is 2000 acres (big) and is family run, the objective is to ensure animal welfare and natural expression (i guess this means there are gay bulls) whilst at the same time being profitable.

their website is packed with information and i recommend you to look through it. it is worth it for the animated cursor sheepherding farmer alone ...

without a doubt what the kindersleys are doing is excellent and should be contacted by anyone in the BUSINESS (yeah - block capitals for big business) of producing food for sale. at the same time, it left me with a debate in my mind ...

there is a massive push on organic produce in the UK and many other countries in the world, the reasons for this are generally fourfold; health (avoidance of bse, e-coli, foot and mouth and the concern over gm crops), environment (increased biodiversity, decreased pesticides and chemical fertilizers), taste and animal welfare. but are we not missing the point? if i look at my friends, it is amazing the amount that don't cook or feel they don't have the time to cook. it seems as though in our drive towards an organic society we are treating the symptom and not the cause. is the cause not as simple as lack of education of the basic cooking techniques? could it not be that our generation no longer know how to cook with basic ingredients and are therefore being forced into processed ready meals? it seems that as the quality of ingredients has improved over the last few years, on a similar and opposite scale the ability to cook has decreased ...

ingredients: butternut squash, blue cheese, onion, water, vegetable stock, salt

take a simple soup as an example - one of the simplest meals that you can make at home. what does it take? heat a pan with oil, chop the onions roughly and cook over a low heat until soft but not coloured. add butternut squash, cauliflower and a little water and leave to steam with the lid on. add more water and some vegetable stock, blue cheese and boil. when the vegetables are sufficiently soft remove from the heat and put through a blender to serve.

there is an incredible amount of cookery classes called "quick cooking", "cooking in no time" or something similar, but they sometimes miss the point. we should be explaining the basic rules of cookery - the central tenets that, if followed, can be used to produce any dish under to sun. this is closer to the science of cooking and probably close to what i strive for in my little investigations ... for example - what is the process that occurs when you make soup? what are the basic rules for making a soup and how can these be applied to other vegetable soups?

well, the above is an example of pureed soup, it is, as mcgee says, "the simplest deconstructed version of fruits and vegetables". the application of force mixes the cell innards with the cell walls. the velvety nature of purees is produced by the fact that the cell walls are predominantly carbohydrate and hence thicken the high water content of the cells.

there are some rules that leiths asks us to observe (but these can be ignored in many cases); avoid passing acidic ingredients through a metal sieve as it can attach a metallic flavour, puree the vegetables apart from the liquid in order to ensure that the soup is not too thin and don't overwork the vegetables as they can become gluey. i would add in addition, that as long as you start with onions and add some good vegetables, you can't go wrong

perhaps equipped with these basic methods and techniques, we would be better prepared to make use of the organic produce that we are now being offered. we would at least have a chance to ensure that our ability to cook was able to match the improved quality of food that we are being offered and no doubt buying ...

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