This will be the menu:
Velouté of Celery (v. simple and cheap when have made stock)
Will be marvellous. Will become known as brilliant but apparently effortless cook.
8.35 p.m. Oh my God. Just took the lid off casserole to remove carcasses. Soup is bright blue.
Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding
I lived at home throughout university. By the time plans to move out of my childhood bedroom (to England, no less) came to fruition, longing for my own flat had reached fever pitch. Two friends and I put a deposit on a place five days after I arrived. That first London flat sat across the road from a 24hr McDonalds (a joy at 4am), above a Lloyds Bank and an Indian restaurant, and right on one of the busiest streets in London. It had electric blue carpet, a glow in the dark kitchen window and, inexplicably, wallpaper in the bathroom that was forever peeling from around the shower. It housed my first dinner parties, my first real Christmas tree, my first flatmates, and saw me through my first jobs and internships. those early boughs of homesickness, and the beginnings of my book collection.
I loved it, but it's not what I had spent my teenage years imagining. Raised on Richard Curtis films and episodes of The Naked Chef, my picture of my first London home was of a nice flat, somewhere in Zone 1 or 2, that I'd be living in on my own. Bridget's flat, paid for on a publishing assistant's salary, set me up for real estate disappointment. Happily, the nature of her friendships turned out to be perfectly judged. Bridget's team of 'singletons' provided me a rare picture (albeit a dysfunctional one) of the family you could create as an adult - outside of the one you came from. Twenty years on from her experience of London, with more 20- and 30-somethings single than ever before, Bridget's friendships feel more relevant than ever.
Like most of my friends, I am here in this city without my immediate family. We have Skype, and WhatsApp, and cheaper travel options than my parents' generation, but my family aren't here for the day-to-day. And so, inevitably, my friends have become my second family. We've held each other's hands through stressful medical appointments, shared bottles of red wine in the face of redundancies, handled devastating break-ups with aplomb, taken trips abroad, cooked each other Christmas dinners, and we've celebrated new jobs and new loves and new homes and risks that have paid off. These friendships are so much more than I dared imagine when I was at school. They are some of the most important and meaningful relationships I imagine I'll have in my life.
I've been asked many times about recreating the meal Bridget serves to a collection of her friends one Tuesday in November. What she ends up putting on the table is blue soup, omelette, and a marmalade (of sorts) - her plans for Michelin-worthy cuisine scuppered by the fact that she has a job, very little natural cooking instinct and an overly complex Marco Pierre White menu in front of her. As a general rule, I'd avoid attempting anything that sounds like a Masterchef offering (Char-grilled Tuna on Velouté of Cherry Tomatoes Coulis with Confit of Garlic and Fondant Potatoes), for the first time on a Tuesday night for eight guests.
I was going to suggest that, for a mid-week dinner party, you avoid this soup too, but then I made it. In all honesty, the trickiest part of it is poaching the eggs - everything else is pretty much just standard soup making: chop, boil, blitz. If you like, you can make it over a couple of consecutive evenings (I've broken down the recipe below in case that helps), without much hands on work each night. You can make the stock weeks in advance and store it in the freezer. You can also, of course, use shop bought stock; for goodness sakes, Marco Pierre White has spent the past decade as the face of Knorr.
At the end of the day, whatever you cook, good friends won't care how it turns out. As Mark Darcy tells Bridget: "Remember everyone's coming to see you, not to eat parfaits in sugar cages". Quite right too.
(Not) Blue Soup OR Velouté of Celery
From a recipe by Marco Pierre White
1 chicken carcass (from a roast chicken) OR 8 chicken wings OR 4 chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs, stripped of their meat)
Half a leek (green tops)
2 sticks celery
Small handful parsley stalks
250g celeriac (peeled)
Half a leek (white part)
500ml stock (from above)
250ml double cream (I've reduced this amount from Pierre White's original, which had as much cream as stock, and was impossibly rich)
Salt and pepper
6 eggs (optional)
Liquidiser or blender
1. If you're using a chicken carcass, you don't need to pre-cook the bones. If you're using leg bones or wings, brown them in the pan for a couple of minutes over a medium heat.
2. Chop the stock vegetables roughly and add them to the large saucepan. Add 1.5l of water, bring the stock to the boil and then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours with the lid on, and then a final hour with the lid off. Allow the stock to cool.
3. Strain the stock, storing the liquid in the fridge or freezer until you need it.
4. Chop the celery, celeriac, leek and onion into small dice. Melt the butter in the large saucepan and add the vegetables, cooking them over a medium heat until translucent (don't let them brown here, you just want them soft).
5. Peel the potato and chop into pieces. Add to the medium saucepan with the stock and cream, and bring to the boil. Pour over the diced vegetables in the other saucepan and cook for ten minutes or so.
6. Allow the soup to cool a little, and then blitz until smooth. Taste the soup, and season - it's a delicately flavoured soup, so add salt and pepper with a light hand. Push through a fine sieve, and pour back into a saucepan, ready to warm through once you're ready to serve.
7. To serve, start warming the soup through over a low heat. Poach the eggs (I crack each egg into a glass and then swirl simmering water in a pan, before dropping them in), and then spoon one into the base of each bowl. Ladle the soup over the eggs and snip some chives over the top.