It so happens, however, that I think a proper winter is a good thing - just so long as the freezing cold stays where it is meant to: outside. I love the real changes of real seasons, and the winter has real food to go with it. Food that cooks gently and slowly, all the while filling the house with rich smells that tickle the nostril and give off a general feeling of well-being.
Before our plight became a fate, a walk into the parental kitchen soothed the soul and warmed the heart. The sight of Ma, hooting with laughter at her offsprings' discomfort while stirring a great pot of soup - in which, at any one time, might be split peas, chickpeas, lentils, rice, beans, pasta, dried fruits (such as the prunes in a good cock-a-leekie), cabbages or any and all of the great family of root vegetables - was a great comfort, a reminder of home, especially when we saw the fresh loaf, curiously called a pre-war pan, nearby awaiting the transformation into thin slices.
This particular bread acquired its name before the second world war, when only the wealthy ate white bread - the Scots term for posh then being "awfy pan loafy". After the war, as diets went through extraordinary change, the term "pre-war pan" was coined.
Now, however, the brown loaf is the pre-war pan de nos jours, a direct result, no doubt, of all those decades of soup recipes ending with the same bleat: "Serve with a hot, crusty loaf." Now, I love a sourdough and a high bake bread, as well as those marvellous pains de campagne of France, but I also love the purity of a well-made and structured loaf of white bread. It is the perfect accompaniment to any one of those great winter warmers.
There are hundreds of splendid traditional recipes for soup. In many respects, the rules of the recipe are little more than common sense, and their names an academic matter. But, as with all great recipes, if you deviate too far from the original, and its careful balance of well-matched produce, the end result can be knocked for a burton.
The true luxury of cooking is time - so, if you don't have the hours to make one of these broths, don't throw in the towel or cut corners. Simply make another soup instead.
All recipes serve six.
PASTA E CECI It is well worth searching out Spanish chickpeas, garbanzo, for this recipe, as they are immeasurably superior to any others that I can think of. The soup can be made well in advance - provided, that is, you do not add the pasta until such time as you want to eat, else it will overcook.
150g dried chickpeas, soaked for 24 hours
200g unsmoked bacon (or pancetta)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tbsp olive oil
1 small sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked
150g tinned whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
220g dried pasta such as rigatoni or penne
3-4 tbsp fresh Parmesan, grated
Sea salt and black pepper
Discard the water in which the chickpeas have been soaking, and give the drained pulses a thorough rinse under cold running water. Put the prepared pulses in a heavy- bottomed pot, along with the bacon, add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the flame, and simmer the chickpea mixture over a gentle heat for an hour and a half to two hours, until the chickpeas have softened.
In a separate pan, fry the garlic in the olive oil, then remove and discard it once it has browned. Add the picked rosemary leaves and the chopped tomatoes to the pan, then reduce the heat and cook at a steady bubble until the oil splits from the tomatoes.
Drain the chickpeas and bacon, and add these to the tomato mixture, along with a further 100-200ml of water. Stir together, bring up to a boil, then cook over a gentle heat for another 15 minutes.
Now tip in the pasta, season and cook for another 12-15 minutes, until the pasta is just cooked. Remove one third of the soup mix from the pan, and liquidise in a blender. Return the whizzed-up soup to the pot, and cook at a simmer, stirring every now and then, for another 10 minutes. Add the Parmesan and serve.
YELLOW SPLIT-PEA SOUP
1 medium carrot
1 stick celery
180g yellow split peas
1 green ham hock
Sea salt and black pepper
Soft, white, sliced bread
1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, washed and picked
Peel all the vegetables and chop them into small pieces. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add a little oil, and in it fry the vegetables for a few minutes. Add the split peas and fry for a few minutes more, stirring to ensure that they are all coated in the oil.
Pour in 1.5 litres of cold water, add the ham hock and bayleaf, then season generously. Bring up to a very gentle simmer, and spoon off any scum that rises to the surface. Leave the soup to tick over at a gentle simmer for two hours or so, then remove the hock and, once it is cool enough to handle, cut off the meat, chop it into small pieces and set to one side.
There are two schools of thought as to how to serve such a soup - that is, smooth or not - but I don't really have a preference: I like it either way, depending on my mood. Blend the finished soup, by all means, or serve it rough and ready as it is. The spilt peas will have all but disintegrated by the end of the cooking process, anyway.
Just before spooning the soup into bowls, cut up the bread into cubes and fry in light oil and butter until crisp. Finely chop the parsley, and stir this into the soup, along with the meat and the croutons.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE AND CEPES SOUP Deeply satisfying.
20g dried cepes (or porcini)
1 small floury potato
1kg Jerusalem artichokes
3 shallots, finely chopped
500ml light chicken stock (or water)
10 hazelnuts, roasted and skinned
150ml whole milk
Sea salt and milled white pepper
1 small handful parsley, chopped
Soak the mushrooms in warm water or stock for 20 minutes. Peel the potato and artichokes, and rinse them under cold running water. Fry the shallots in a little butter. Squeeze dry the porcini, chop them small, add to the shallots and stew gently for 10 minutes or so without colouring.
Roughly chop the artichokes and potato, and add these to the pot. Pour in the stock and the nuts, and simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are cooked. Liquidise the mixture, then return it to the pot and add the milk. Bring up to a simmer and adjust the seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add a little more milk and water. Just before serving, stir in the parsley.
MULLIGATAWNY I am immensely fond of this curious soup that once featured so regularly on many a menu.
60g unsalted butter
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp mild curry powder
250g tinned tomatoes
3 green chillies
1 red pepper
3 cloves garlic
250g lentils (Puy work very well)
40g seedless raisins
1 tsp brown sugar
1.4 litres chicken stock
Sea salt and black pepper
Peel and finely chop the onions, then fry them very gently in the butter until just golden. Add the tomato purée and curry powder, and continue frying gently for 15 minutes, stirring often. Put the tinned tomatoes, cloves, chillies, red pepper and garlic into a liquidiser, and render to a pulp. Pour this into the cooking pan, and simmer until the contents have thickened to a paste-like consistency and taken on a slightly darker hue.
Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. Tip the cleaned lentils into the pot, along with the raisins and sugar, then pour in the stock and bring the soup up to a boil. Skim off any foam that appears on the surface, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Season generously, cover the pot, and leave to cook gently for an hour and a half.
You may be tempted to liquidise the cooked soup, so making it smooth, but it is really not necessary. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt into which you have mixed some chopped fresh mint.
Jeremy Lee is chef at Blue Print Cafe, Butlers Wharf, London SE1.