Creamy soups are around for a long time. They were invented based on the famous “balsamella” sauce that is also known as “béchamel”.
Originally, the well-known sauces “balsamella” (or “besciamella” and alternatively “salsa colla” or “salsa colletta”) were used in the Middle Ages in Tuscany in Italy. The sauce was definitely known to the chefs of Catherina de’ Medici in the 1530s. Food historians suggest that it was imported to France by the chefs of Marie de’ Medici, the second wife of King Henry IV. Thus, the flour-based butter & milk sauce was added to the French cuisine. The original name “balsamella” was then translated as “béchamel”, which later became famous all over the world. Also, skilful cooks and housewives turned the sauce into different creamy soups by diluting it and adding different vegetables to it, including mushrooms.
In the United States, the creamy mushroom soup appeared as a canned product in 1934 by the Campbell Soup Company. Ever since, it is one of the most popular canned soups in America.
My favourite creamy mushroom soup is easy to make and it only uses butter, not flour. The below recipe from Channel 4 is so delicious that I even made it for a Christmas dinner once. I made some slight alterations to the original recipe based on the fact that some ingredients were just not available in my area. I think it is perfect and I would recommend making the soup based on this slightly modified recipe. It is perfect for occasions, too as it easily lends itself for professionalpresentation!
The Vichyssoise soup is a versatile dish, as it can be served both hot and cold. Originally, it is made of pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. Nevertheless, vegetarians can also enjoy this lovely soup if they replace the chicken stock to vegetable stock.
The soup’s origins are debated by food historians. Some believe it is a French dish; others regard it as an “American invention”. Most often, Louis Diat, a French chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City is credited with the soup’s recipe or at least with its re-invention based on childhood memories of a similar soup he enjoyed when growing up in France.
When the soup first appeared on the menu of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1917, it was called “Crème Vichyssoise Glacée”. Later, from the 1930s onwards, it was simply referred to as “Vichy”. Today, its is most often called “Vichyssoise”. It sounds very elegant, doesn’t it?
I came across the recipe of the Vichyssoise soup when I attended an intermediary cookery course at the Ashburton Cookery School in the United Kingdom. The soup we prepared at the course under the guidance of professional chefs was of restaurant quality, both by taste and look. It’s an easy but very impressive dish, in my opinion.
The original recipe of the Ashburton Cookery School contains chicken stock. I changed it to vegetable stock when I became vegetarian. In my opinion, it is equally delicious. I would recommend trying this fabulous recipe either way, according to your taste.
25 gram butter
100 gram onion (finely chopped)
200 gram leek (finely sliced)
150 gram potato (peeled and finely chopped)
500 millilitre vegetable stock (preferably home made or organic packaged)
50 millilitre double cream
Salt according to taste
Pepper according to taste
Handful of chives (finely chopped)
Melt the butter and seat the leeks and onions until softened.
Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Stir constantly and add a little stock occasionally to keep topped up to the 500-millilitre level while it simmers.
When the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, allow the soup to cool slightly and then liquidise the soup until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve.
Add the double cream and adjust the consistency with a little more stock if necessary.
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the chopped chives.
Once you prepared the soup, serve it either hot or cold. Don’t forget to decorate with finely chopped chives to get the restaurant-look!
Ratatouille is a great vegetarian stew with full of summery flavours and nutrients. It is quite easy to make and it is also very versatile. It can be served as a main or as a side, or even as filling for sandwiches or savory crepes. Also, the base recipe can be easily adjusted according to different personal preferences. It may even be served hot or cold, according to individual taste.
Ratatouille originates in Nice, in Provence. It is known to be a country dish, created by farmers during the summer season, when fresh vegetables were abundant in this region of France. The name of the dish comes from the French world “touiller”, which means “to stir” or “to toss” in English. The first part of the world “rata” is a French slang word that means something like “chunky stew” in English.
Typically, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and garlic are included in the traditional recipes of Ratatouille and the dish is spiced with fine herbs. If you like other vegetables like mushrooms, squash and potatoes, you may add them to your own preferred version of Ratatouille. Spicing is also a matter of personal preference. For true French flavours, use “Herbes de Provence”. You may also consider trying marjoram, thyme, basil and parsley.
Some recipes suggest that for the best result, Ratatouille’s ingredients should be cooked separately before combining them. This method is known to preserve the flavours of the individual ingredients better and it avoids a soggy and mushy texture in the stew. This tip is definitely worth trying!
Ratatouille’s taste, versatility and the simplicity of its preparation definitely contributed the global success of this quintessential French dish. Now, let’s try making it based on the below recipe of BBC Food (serves two people as a main course):
4 small courgettes
2 bell peppers
4 large tomatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
“Herbes de Provence” spice mixture
small bunch basil, roughly torn
Cut the aubergines into 2.5cm/1in slices. Cut the courgettes into 2.5cm/1in slices. De-seed the peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
Score a cross in the base of each tomato and place them in a pot. Pour over boiling water to cover and set aside for one minute. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel away the skins. Cut them into quarters, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Chop them up into small pieces. Alternatively, use good quality canned plum tomatoes.
Place the aubergines and courgettes in a pan and drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper.Fry the aubergine slices in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen towels.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Cook over a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and very tender. Stir in the peppers, garlic, sugar, some salt and pepper. Add the “Herbes of Provence” spice mixture and half of the basil. Mix the ingredients, cover and cook over a very gentle heat for 20 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the aubergines and the courgettes, mix the ingredients and cook for a further few minutes. Scatter with the remaining basil and serve.