There is nothing more soothing for the soul than a bowl of hot soup. Outside, the temperature may plummet, icy winds whistle around the house or rain drum on the roof, but if you feast on a steaming bowl of soup, it feels as if the winter freeze could never touch you.
Not only is soup nourishing mentally, it's also good for you, usually being chockful of vegetables, and it's a cinch to put together. Some soups require long simmering times but others can be on your table as soon as the vegetables are cooked, making it an easy dish to fortify you when you're feeling poorly, under the weather or just in need of some pepping up.
I love that soup also requires minimal equipment: a chopping board and sharp knife to prepare, and a saucepan and wooden spoon to cook. There's an endless variety of soups to choose from: velvety veloutes that make an elegant start to a dinner party; pureed vegetables sharpened with a hint of spice for a liquid burst of healthiness; and chunky vegetable and lentil or minestrone or ribollita, which are meals in themselves. Soup can be served on its own, perhaps with some buttery toast soldiers, or you can serve with accompaniments such as croutons or dumplings. You can follow a recipe or make up your own version as the fancy takes you. Best of all, most soups are forgiving of ingredients, meaning you can substitute whatever is in your pantry.
Melbourne's winter this year seems colder than previous years and we've already treated ourselves to many soups, including smooth pumpkin, chunky minestrone, a hearty vegetable and lentil soup and classic tomato. My latest favourite cookbook, The Australian Women's Weekly Winter Favourites, featuring an irresistible chocolate pudding on the front cover, includes a recipe for ribollita or Tuscan bean soup. It requires lengthy cooking time, so on a cold weekend afternoon, it was the perfect soup to have simmering on the stove. Despite the cooking time, this soup needs minimal effort and you will be fortified for days after eating it.
TUSCAN BEAN SOUP (RIBOLLITA)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200g piece speck, bacon or pancetta, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 x 400g cans tomatoes
1/4 medium Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups beef consomme or stock
2 litres water
400g can borlotti beans, rinsed, drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 thick slices ciabatta
extra virgin olive oil for serving
Heat oil in a large saucepan or stock pot. Add onion, garlic and speck, cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until onion is soft.
Add carrots, celery, undrained crushed tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, thyme, consomme and water. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.
Add beans, simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, toast or grill bread.
Place a slice of bread in base of six serving bowls, top with soup and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Recipe from The Australian Women's Weekly Winter Favourites