I remember the dinner well - soup of oseille, a sole quite simply cooked in a white-wine sauce, a caneton à la presse, a lemon soufflé.
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
I eat a lot of soup in winter. Rich, thick root veg, blitzed to a smooth puree; chunky, roughly cut carrots yielding in hot, fragrant stock. A pot of soup on the table, set alongside a loaf of homemade bread, and some good butter, is one of the true joys of the colder months. But this February, I am in sunny Australia, and it is perhaps little surprise that I have not thought much of soup in the past week. I have focused my attention instead on cool, crisp salads filled with fragrant herbs, on fresh, ripe fruit, eaten over the sink to catch the drips, on ice-creams and sorbets dug out of the freezer.
Most Saturdays, at 6am, my granny and my mum venture to the farmers’ markets. When I used to live here, they tempted me along with the promise of time behind the wheel – while I was learning to drive, it was the safest and quietest time for me to be on the road. I’d grumble and complain as I stomped down the stairs, longing to return to bed for another few hours (or six hours - at sixteen I would happily have slept away most of the day), but those mornings were formative for me. I got my license, a little card that brought a previously unimaginable level of independence, but I also learnt about food.
I started to appreciate seasonal cooking and eating: the arrival of beloved fruits and vegetables I had been anticipating for long months. Brisbane’s tropical climate and dependable supermarkets meant there wasn’t anything we struggled to find, but at the markets, it felt special to take home trays of ripe mangoes, and talk to the farmers about the apple season. I’m lucky enough to have always lived relatively close to a farmers’ market since then, and even though much of my food shopping takes place in supermarkets (I’m still not organised enough to have done the week’s planning on a Saturday), I love walking home with a bag containing pears, or asparagus, or cavolo nero: something that sings of the season.
Last weekend, at the markets with mum and my granny at 6am (old habits die hard it seems), I found some red vein sorrel*. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for it in England for a while for precisely this recipe, but somehow always miss it. It’s least bitter in April and May in England and I never really fancy soup once the weather starts warming up, so stop looking out for it in the markets. But I wondered here whether a cold sorrel soup might work, and picked up a big bunch. Later, as I reminded myself of the other courses Charles Ryder orders: a sole in white wine sauce and a dish of pressed duck, I decided that although it certainly would have been served hot in Paris, I was happy to reimagine it as a cold soup. And really, here in Brisbane, on a muggy January night, it’s the only version I could imagine eating. The sharp acidity of the sorrel is tempered by the egg and cream, though they’re added in small amounts so that the soup doesn’t taste too rich. I could have eaten the whole pan, and it’s a soup I’ll be repeating when I return this spring.
*A note on the red vein sorrel. If I had my time over again, I’d make this soup with plain old green sorrel. It turned a muddy colour that isn’t particularly appealing, but my excitement at finally making the soup won out over my logical understanding that, on the colour spectrum, red and green together make brown. Don’t make my mistake.
Serves 2 generously
4 long spring onions, sliced
100g fresh sorrel leaves
Generous pinch flaky sea salt and ground black pepper
400ml vegetable stock
1 egg yolk
60ml single cream
Small mixing bowl
1. Melt the butter in the pan over a medium heat. Once foaming, add the chopped spring onions, and stir for five minutes until softened. Add the sorrel and watercress leaves, which will almost immediately start to wilt down. Stir until wilted completely, then season with salt and pepper.
2. Sprinkle the flour over the leaves, stir, then pour in the stock. Simmer for 10 minutes, then blitz to a smooth liquid with an immersion blender, taking care to ensure that the hot soup doesn’t splash all over your hands.
3. In the mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolk and cream. Tip a bit of the soup over it, whisking constantly to ensure you don’t scramble the egg. Tip this back into the pot of soup, and then place over a low heat, stirring for a couple of minutes to thicken it, without letting it boil.
4. Eat immediately or refrigerate until cold, if you’d prefer. Serve topped with slices of spring onion, a spoonful of yoghurt, or fresh sorrel or watercress leaves, if you like.