Philippa Vine gives us some soups for all seasons

It had been half term the week before and I had to take our daughter to a tennis tournament instead of minding my stall at the Friday Food Market selling homemade soup and tarts.

So, Mr V looked after my stall as well as his own and he managed – to his credit – to sell out of soup although it didn’t dawn on me until I was loading up for the following week that he had used up all the disposable cups and so a late-night dash to the cash and carry was needed.

When you’re selling to the same customers every week including one who has a four pint standing order, you need a varied repertoire of soups to call upon to prevent things getting repetitive.

I love the versatility of soups and the endless variety of possibilities that if presents to the home cook.

I have chosen three here which, in terms of colour and ingredients, could represent three different seasons.

Potato and leek soup is a classic winter warmer and has a wonderful flavour especially if you really take your time and sweat the leeks in the butter over a low heat which is the secret to a good tasting soup.

The roast tomato and pepper soup has the most wonderfully vibrant colour although ideally you’ve really got to wait for the surplus of summer tomatoes.

Adding the dried porcini mushrooms to the chestnut mushroom soup really gives it a real depth and autumnal richness and is delicious with the homemade croutons. Making these croutons with good quality stale bread is what makes them tasty, try them!

Mushroom Soup

• Serves 4.
• 1 medium onion
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 250g (9oz) chestnut mushrooms
• 15g dried porcini mushrooms
• 1 medium potato
• A sprig of thyme
• 725ml (1¼ pts) of water
• 25g (1oz) butter
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 100ml double cream

Steep the dried porcini mushrooms in 275ml of boiling water (from the 725ml total). Slice the onion, crush the garlic, slice the mushrooms and peel the potato. Fry the onion and garlic in the butter until they starts to soften and then add the mushrooms and thyme. When the mushrooms have cooked a bit, add the water and the dried porcini with the soaking water. Grate the potato and add this. Bring to the boil and cook gently for 30 minutes covered with a lid. Puree the soup in a blender, taste for seasoning and add the cream. Bring to the boil before serving.

Roast Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

• Serves 6.
• 1 35kg (3lbs) fresh, ripe tomatoes
• 2 red peppers
• 1 onion
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 275ml (1/2 pint) vegetable stock or water
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• A small bunch of thyme and basil
• 1 tablespoon sun dried tomato paste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F, Gas mark 7). Peel and chop the onion and crush the garlic. Roughly chop the tomatoes, remove the core from the pepper and chop up. Heat the oil in a roasting tray and add these ingredients with the thyme and seasoning. Turn the ingredients so they are well mixed and coated in the oil. Roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes until the peppers are soft, stirring once or twice. Towards the end of the cooking add the basil. Transfer the ingredients to a saucepan (remove the thyme stalks) and add the stock/water, the paprika and the tomato paste. Simmer for 15 minutes. Liquidise the soup and pass through a sieve to remove the tomato skin and pips. Serve hot with crusty bread or chilled with a swirl of cream in the summer. For really stylish presentation, serve with a brunch of roasted cherry tomatoes.

Potato and Leek Soup

• Serves 6.
• 4 medium leeks
• 450g (1lb) potatoes
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 150ml (1/4 pint) cream
• 50g (2oz) butter

Trim the leeks but leave as much green on as possible. Split them down the centre and shred them finely. Wash well and drain. Put 100g of the leeks to one side. Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks. Sweat the leeks (except the 100g) in the butter but do not colour them. Add the potatoes and seasoning and then cover the vegetables with water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender and return to the heat. Check the seasoning and put in the cream. Stir-fry the leeks that have been set aside and spoon some into the centre of each bowl of soup. Serve croutons separately.

Cracking Croutons

Cube up some stale white bread (French bread or Italian ciabbata or focaccia are good, but avoid the square factory stuff) and don’t worry about being too neat. Place them in a bowl and drizzle over some olive oil while shaking the bowl. Sprinkle over lots of black pepper and a little salt. Also toss in some finely grated Parmesan but this is optional. Scatter them on to a baking sheet and place in a very hot oven (230C, 450F, Gas mark 8). 10-15 minutes should get them brown, crispy and sizzling. Try to get them on to the soup before you eat them all.

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