A good soup can brighten up even the darkest, coldest winter evening

Delicious vegetable soup.
Delicious vegetable soup.

The composer Beethoven is quoted as saying: “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.” I would add the caveat that while you don’t necessarily have to be a good person to make a great soup you definitely need quality ingredients to end up with something delicious.

When I started working in professional kitchens stock pots were the basis of many dishes including soup. Vats of bubbling liquid with roasted bones and aromatics permeated the air. The longer they were left to simmer, the better the layers of taste.

I’m not averse to using stock cubes but the difference between fresh stock and using one from a packet is the difference between sublime and acceptable in a finished soup or sauce.

I’ve included a recipe for chicken stock using roasted chicken wings. Make up a good batch and freeze what you don’t need. Alternatively you could use the carcass left over from roast chicken.

Carol Banahan is an former financial stock trader who now makes great beef, chicken and vegetable stocks in the Maiden City. They’re available in butchers and delis throughout Northern Ireland and worth sussing out if you want a good base without the effort.

Thirty years ago when I was making soup at college it was all about thickening it with a roux. The result was often gloopy with a horrible skin on top. It’s better to let the actual ingredients thicken the soup or add a potato to do the same job. When blended you’ll end up with a natural, silky product. To get the most flavour out of vegetables, roast them first with a little oil, salt and some aromatic herbs like thyme or rosemary.

The key to any good soup is to start with what the French call a mirepoix and the Italians call a sofrito. Chopped onions, garlic, celery, leek and carrots are cooked gently in butter or oil until golden and fragrant. This is not a quick process – it will take about 20 minutes but will make a magical difference to the end result. Add the stock, main component and simmer gently before blending. If you boil soup the starches burst and you’re left with something that looks like it’s got measles, rather than a smooth velvety finish. My first recipe is for a cauliflower soup with a garnish of sage fried cauliflower and cheesy toasts on the side.

Cauliflower cheese is a timeless classic dish and the flavours work well in a soup as well. I’ve used a floury potato to thicken the soup as well as a bit of cream to add a little richness.

Beef broth has been in the news of late as a super food – tell us something we don’t know here. Shin soup was a mainstay of my childhood – there would invariably be a pot on the stove and nothing warmed the heart and soul, never mind the belly, like it. My other recipe is for a hearty soup using beef shin as a base, with the bone in so you get all that richness from the marrow. I’ve added traditional barley but also some tinned tomatoes for a slightly Italian feel.

Louis P De Gouy was the chef in New York’s iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1940s. He summed up how wonderfully versatile soup is: “Soup is cuisine’s kindest course. It breathes reassurance; it steams consolation; after a weary day it promotes sociability, as the five o’clock cup of tea or the cocktail hour.”

Definitely something to brighten up the dark, chilly winter evenings.