On Saturday we made soup. It was a joint effort. I stared out into the garden (it was a cold day inside and out as misted window panes were being finally replaced and so it was like living in a barn as the saying goes) and noticed that there was still a small cluster of dwarf kale plants in the raised bed. Kale is not a plant I think of growing much, I have grown the tall and statuesque cavalo nero and one time we grew the flower sprouts because, well we had to see what they were like, my main reason for growing things in my restricted space is often to see it grow and then of course eat it…. The baby kale plants were left over after a big planting session at the Community Garden and so various people took them home to plant out rather than waste them. I took four baby plants home and tucked them in the back of the bed around the end of September. I take bits and pieces in from my garden so it is a two-way traffic of plants, somewhat random but it worked.
My raised bed in early March is not a wonderfully inspiring sight. It is mostly covered in moss, and there are various interesting weeds and opportunistic poppies growing in it.
I will go out and clear it any day now, I promise. Currently it is home to: some winter ravaged spinach, some tenacious parsley plants, the odd self sown salad leaf, (the red mustard is always popping up) and a slug chewed puntarelle.
So for the soup: Brian chopped up two big handfuls of the rather beautiful kale (protected under netting from hungry pigeons and being dug up by the fox and the cats) a couple of leeks, two garlic cloves, and the remains of a bunch of celery and sweated them in our big pan. Then I came along and went on the rummage. I collected a tub of ham hock shreds and a tub of frozen gellied ham hock stock from the freezer, awarding myself three gold stars for remembering it was there, then three old frozen parmesan rinds, another gold star, some dried pearl barley and red lentils (a handful of each went in the soup) and a bowl of saved pasta cooking water from the night before which adds a nice silky softeness to the soup and two dried bay leaves.
On the subject of ham hocks. These are slightly scary large pieces of pig, which come with their skin and fat on them. I cook them two at a time, very simply covered in fresh water in a large pan with a few peppercorns and bayleaves, parsley stalks and shallots for a couple of hours simmering away until the meat pulls away from the bone. Then I skin them and take some of the fat off and shred the meat and freeze most of it. We strained the liquid and saved as much as there was room to store sensibly in the freezer.
( Long rambling aside follows, you can skip this bit and look at the daffodils below instead …I had the most delicious sandwich at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on one of my infrequent London visits last year to see my Dad who has moved to Dulwich. I am ashamed to say I remember my lunch better than whatever we looked at in the gallery, (I don’t think there was a big exhibition on in there at the time). This sandwich was filled with a mixture of capers and ham hock in some sort of mayo type dressing and thought at the time how nice ham hock shreds were, meaty and tender without being too salty and so I investigated further and found myself buying and processing them.)
The first time I cooked hocks the stock was very salty, so I suspect they may vary in how heavily or how long they have been salted by the butcher. However this time round, it wasn’t nearly as salty and we saved about three quarters of it, there was masses and it started to jellify as it cooled down, which I always think is a good sign, and froze it in little tubs, trying to be organized. I have this bad habit of freezing things and then not using them for years so I am trying to use my buried away freezer foods more regularly. A lot of apple sauce is being eaten at the moment for example!
I tried one of the pots of stock in a soup a couple of weeks ago but thought, I am sure food people don’t do this, they probably only use chicken or beef stock in their cooking and felt a bit sort of guilty that I was using a meat stock in a vegetable soup, almost as if I was cheating or something. but no more will I feel this way as I finally got a copy of Olia Hercules’ Mamushka cook book and settled down to read it one evening last week just as you would a good novel. It was a delight of a read! I saw photos and read recipes that validated many of the things I do as well as giving me lots of fresh ideas and inspiration.
Olia uses lots of bone and meat broths in her soups, both beef and pork based and I was very interested. I don’t make bone broths as a rule but I am going to have to be brave and ask the butcher with a sort of casual ‘oh and by the way, could you put a kilo of bones in with my sausages and mince please’ ? way and give him my best smile. Anyway I thought the ham hock stock would be a good substitute and is pretty close to that style of cooking.
I particularly loved the way her salads get tinged with the pink of beetroots, mine do that and can look remarkably scruffy and almost embarassing, which is ridiculous when you think about it. We are so used to the hegemony of food photography, from the recipe cards in the supermarkets to our cook books and all the blogs out there, all shouting for attention, look at me, make me, eat me, there are styles of photos, lighting mantras, things about which way the knife and fork face, angles, all designed to create appetite and longing, the equivalent of fashion supermodel photography. But the difference is this : we eat with our eyes, but also with our noses and our mouths and our appetite and our memories and emotions. There is more to eating food than how it looks! That is why a well written cook book works on so many levels, it’s the words and the stories, the pictures painted in my mind, that do it for me every time; a badly written book with lots of repetitions and standard paragraphs carried over from one recipe to the next becomes incredibly boring no matter how glamorous the photos, and who wants to cook from a boring book?
I will use my ham hock stock with great pride and joy and celebrate the diversity and the ingenuity of cooks everywhere and be ever mindful and grateful that I have access to shops, space to grow what I can and funds to buy food with.
Saturday Morning Ham Hock and Kale soup inspired by Olia Hercules’s Mamushka
From the freezer
- 50g of old parmesan rinds
- 100g of ham hock shreds
- 250g of ham hock stock
- From the garden
- 2 handfuls of dwarf kale, finely shredded
- Sprigs of ancient parsley
From the greengrocer, the fridge and the cupboard
- 2 Leeks, sliced and chopped
- 2 Garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 sticks of celery, chopped
- A bit of old shredded Savoy cabbage (says Brian)
- Pearl Barley (one of my handfuls)
- Red Lentils (ditto)
- A litre and a half of pasta boiling water
- two garden bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A tablespoon of full fat yoghurt/kefir/sourcream to serve
- Sweat the leeks and garlic and celery in olive oil till softened
- Add the shredded kale and any other ingredients
- Defrost the ham hock stock and add to the pot
- Throw in the parmesan rinds and the meat shreds
- Throw in the grains and lentils
- Add pasta boiling water from the night before (or use fresh water) you should have enough to cover the contents of the pan plus a couple of centimetres on top as the barley and lentils will absorb liquid as they cook
- Bring to a gentle boil and cook till the grains and lentils are soft
- The cooking itself took about 20—25 minutes
- Serve with a big tablespoon of full fat yoghurt stirred in or sour cream if that
- is your fancy or kefir if you have it.
- Eat with toasted sourdough or on its own. Go on, have another bowl!