One of my fondest memories of early days at Bibendum is when Egon Ronay had booked a lunch for himself and a guest. He arrived early, alone, and remained that way for the duration; there had been a mix-up with dates, apparently. Mr Ronay was not well pleased. Eventually, he decided to enjoy his lunch nonetheless. He ordered soup to begin. Celery, I am sure it was.
His soup was duly sent out from the kitchen and, almost instantly, returned. 'Mr Ronay says that his soup is too hot!' the head waiter informed. 'Too hot?' I replied, astonished. 'Yes, too hot,' he repeated, cracking up. I then promptly reversed into defensive mode. Mr Ronay was my former boss and someone I respected enormously - and continue to so do. 'Soup can be too hot, you know, like quiche. Quiche is always better warm, or at room temperature, even,' I parried. 'Anyway, Mr Ronay is now quite impatient and irritable because he has been let down by his guest. Let us cool his soup and make him happy!'
Egon loved his soup, eventually, and further told me how much finer celery soup is if one includes a little chopped celeriac to the celery stalks as they stew. And so I have done ever since, with excellent results.
Over these two weeks I will, not surprisingly, be passing on to you the joys of cooking and eating both warm and room-temperature dishes. The following soup is one of the very best examples of these mellow pleasures.
New potato, tomato and basil soup
I first came across this delicious soup in The Greens Cookbook, written by America's favourite vegetarian cook, Deborah Madison (this has just been republished here by Grub Street Publishing), though you may also find the recipe in my Roast Chicken and Other Stories (£12, Ebury Paperback Cookery). It is, be assured, a much tastier soup when served warm rather than hot from the pan - and water rather than stock, unusually, is preferable here. Serves 4-6.
1.4 litres water
1 large white onion or the equivalent weight of leeks [white part only]
1 bay leaf
5 thyme sprigs
700g new potatoes, washed, scraped and coarsely chopped
1 tsp salt
450-500g very ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
4-5 tbsp olive oil
a small bunch of basil, leaves only
red wine vinegar, to taste
freshly ground white pepper, for preference
Melt the butter in a large pan with a little of the water, and add the onion (or leeks), bay leaf and thyme. Stew over a low heat for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and salt. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Pour in the rest of the water and bring up to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft indeed. Pass the soup through a mouli-legumes and return to the pan (note: do not be tempted to liquidise this soup, as it may become gluey). In a separate saucepan, fry the tomatoes with a little seasoning in 1 tbsp of the olive oil and cook until their juices have evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened slightly. Pass these through a sieve (fine enough to catch the seeds) and add them to the potato soup. Puree the basil with a little vinegar and salt, and then incorporate the remaining olive oil to form a dressing. Set aside.
Serve the soup in individual bowls, with a spoonful or two of the basil dressing floating on top, and a generous grinding of pepper. If the soup thickens between the time it is made and served, thin it with additional water or, if you prefer, a little single cream.
I apologise in advance for the expense incurred for this luxurious joint, but it remains my best beloved of roasts and is at its finest when served as pink slices, at just room temperature and with a jug of its hot meat juices poured over at the table. It is also very good served cold, accompanied by a relish of beetroot and freshly grated horseradish. This is achieved by making a puree and acidulating it with balsamic vinegar, a little sugar and seasoning until a deep, ruby red and with a nostril-cleansing punch. Serves 4-6.
1.75-2kg T-bone joint of veal (includes both loin and fillet)
salt and pepper
a little chopped veal trim - 200-300g, say, of fatty pie-veal or breast meat
2 to 3 sage sprigs
several unpeeled garlic cloves, bruised
dry white wine (decent enough to have a glass of while you are cooking)
Pre-heat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Using a sharp knife (I use a Stanley), score the fat of the joint into diamond patterns of about an inch, diagonally. Rub all surfaces with olive oil using your hands and then season with salt and pepper. Place the joint, flat-bone side down, in a roomy roasting dish, disperse the trim around it, and tuck in the sage and garlic here and there. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the temperature down to 180C/gas mark 4. Pour over a small glass of the wine and return the joint to the oven for a further hour, adding more wine occasionally as each addition has somewhat reduced, and also basting with these juices from time to time.
I think an hour and a half is about right here, for meat that is nicely pink, once rested and left to cool to kitchen temperature. If you wish for more well-cooked meat, then add anything between 15 and 30 minutes. To give a final crisping of the fat, you may like to present that surface to a hot grill for 2-3 minutes.
To make the delicious meat juices, first remove the joint to a serving dish and place on the top of the stove at the back, loosely covered with foil, to rest. Place the roasting tin over a low flame and only just cover the veal trim with water. Bring up to a simmer and stir around with a spoon, so collecting up any crusted bits. Simmer for about 30 minutes or so, removing any scum as necessary. Strain through a fine sieve into a pan and allow to gently reduce until a fine, clear and meaty flavour has been achieved. Remove the loin and fillet from the bone - easier than you might think - using a sharp carving knife and thinly slice the veal. Decant the hot juices into a warmed jug with a dessertspoon in so that each person may stir in the oily parts to the juices before pouring over their serving. Eat with:
Steamed courgettes in soured cream dressing with dill
A steamer really is essential for this dish.
700-800g large courgettes, peeled, cut into three short logs, halved lengthways and then quartered
75g pickled dill cucumbers [preferably a Kosher brand]
1 tsp white wine vinegar
several sprigs of dill
3 tbsp sour cream, plus a little extra
1 tsp caster sugar
extra dill and a sprinkling of paprika for garnish
Salt the courgettes fairly liberally and put to drain in a colander with a dish underneath. Leave for one hour. Puree the cucumbers, vinegar, dill, sour cream (reserving the extra) and sugar. Briefly rinse the courgettes and dry well in a tea towel. Place in a dish and steam for at least 10 minutes - or a little longer if piled together. Once cooked, drain in a colander and then slide into a shallow serving dish. Grind over a little pepper and cover with the sour cream puree. Gently shake the dish to settle the assembly. Finally, garnish with some streaks of the reserved sour cream (stir to thin it, using a fork), some chopped dill fronds and a final sprinkling of paprika. Serve at room temperature.
A much finer, more delicate crumble will be achieved if the mixture is carefully spooned over the fruit and left as small hillocks rather than packing it down. I would give it a minimal cover. My crumble mixture:
250g very cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
400g plain flour
200g golden caster sugar
a generous pinch of salt
Place all the ingredients in a roomy bowl. Gently and lightly, using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, sugar and salt, while lifting and dropping the mixture back through the fingers, so handling the ingredients as little as possible - in the same way as making pastry. The 'crumble' is, after all, nothing more than uncompacted pastry.
500g strawberries, hulled and halved lengthways
a scant sprinkling of white caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
several thin flakes of unsalted butter
a little extra golden caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Pile the strawberries into a lightly buttered dish, sprinkle with sugar, squeeze over the lemon juice and distribute the butter flakes. Cover the fruit with crumble mixture [see above], sprinkle over a little golden caster sugar and place in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until jammy strawberry juices are quietly erupting around the edges of the dish, the surface is pock-marked with golden pustules and the smell of the thing is becoming quite intoxicating. Eat warm...
· To order Simon Hopkinson's Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (£12, Ebury) for £11 with free UK p&p, go to observer.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0885 Next week: Simon Hopkinson's favourite fish dishes. Nigel Slater returns in two weeks