As the long winter nights draw in, there's nothing like a generous helping of comfort food to keep the cold out, and homemade soup is a hearty, healthy choice, and versatile enough to cope with almost any occasion.
Tempting as it may be to grab a carton or tin from the supermarket shelf, making your own soup really is simple, even for kitchen novices.
The basis of all good soups is a good stock. Whether you're going for a comforting cream soup or a light broth, the stock makes all the difference. Making your own is easy, uses up leftovers and is usually lower in fat and salt than shop-bought cubes, while winning in the flavour stakes.
Meat stocks can be made with, for instance, a leftover roast chicken carcass or bones from your Sunday joint, while fish stocks can be made from discarded shells. Vegetable stocks, meanwhile, allow you to add whatever veggies you prefer. All that's required is to add cold water (enough to cover any bones or veggies), seasoning, and vegetables if you're making a meat stock, cover and simmer slowly for up to four hours. It requires very little effort on the cook's part, and it'll make all the difference to the flavour of your soup.
How you begin your soup will depend on what type you are making, but for a hearty meat or vegetable soup, a chopped onion and a few veggies such as carrots or butternut squash sweated down in the pan with a knob of butter will give you a base with a rounded flavour. Adding potato or a handful of red split lentils will help to thicken the soup well. At this point you can add herbs, spices and seasoning as required.
The main ingredient
Your main ingredient can be anything you choose, but consider how long it will take to cook in order to determine when to add it. For example, if butternut squash is your soup hero, you can add it along with the base vegetables in order to allow it time to cook through. If you're using leftover roast meat, on the other hand, you won't need to add it until much later in the cooking process. To add an extra flavour dimension, consider roasting vegetables before adding them. Whatever your main ingredient, make sure you add plenty or you'll just end up with a generic vegetable soup. Then simply add the stock and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes or more, until the ingredients are tender.
Finishing your soup
It is entirely up to you whether you blend your soup. Vegetable soups become thick but silky smooth when blended, but if you are adding meat, blending may lead to a grainy texture. If you choose not to blend, ensure that you have cut your ingredients into bite-size pieces for easy eating. To finish you can add a garnish of croutons, chopped herbs, some grated Parmesan, or a drizzle of cream or creme fraiche for a touch of luxury.
Lastly, don't be afraid to experiment - you can make soup from pretty much flavours your fancy, so give it a try. You might just surprise yourself.
Do you make your own soups? What are your top tips for soup novices? Leave your comments below...