Surely, we all have childhood-related food indulgences we don’t like to discuss. Of course banana purée wasn’t our first solid; it was foie gras mi-cuit. At age 2, we weren’t fed spaghetti with tomato sauce, but rather, we slurped a slippery noodle out of a bowl of assam laksa. But of course. All foodies were born foodies. So, how many of us will admit to eating as-orange-as-a-fake-tan-gone-wrong-cheese known as Kraft Singles? Grilled between two white, flaccid pieces of toast. Anyone? *A hand slowly creeps up from the crowd*. Yes, I ate chicken nuggets (didn’t we all?), Kraft Singles grilled “cheese” sandwiches, and I rather messily drank a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, the one of sodium-packed-goodness fame. The soup immortalised by Andy Warhol.
After school, in front of the telly, I many a time ignored wafts of cinammon-spiced rice and clove-cloaked chicken korma coming from the kitchen; preferring a reliable bowl of Campbell’s soup. It was the glossy, pudgy noodles and the congealed chicken which had their appeal, mainly.
That doesn’t mean to say I didn’t come to love real soup. Soup that isn’t out of a can. A smoky-sweet, velvety purée of red capsicum, roasted alongside shallots and garlic, sautéed in olive oil with waxy potatoes and passed through a food mill. Topped with buttery, tart, Irani feta to dovetail with the sweet elements; pignolia nuts for textural play; and rounded off nicely with a meandering trail of olive oil. Some crusty bread with a soft interior, to mop it up.
A rust, Autumn-toned soup.
For the record, I still like Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, after all, so did Warhol, who said, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”
A few cooking notes:
- A blender can be used to purée the vegetables, but I prefer to use a food mill, as I find that the blender turns the potatoes to a gluey mess.
- The juices of the roasted peppers are very sweet; while peeling the charred skin and removing the seeds, be sure to save them and add them to the pot. Please don’t wash them, or you’ll lose the juices.
- Fleur de sel is very dear, but this recipe only requires one teaspoon. Since the dish has very few ingredients, using fleur de sel will lift the flavours rather nicely.
- My preferred feta is an Irani brand, made with sheep’s milk.
- As oven intensities vary, please do keep an eye on your capsicum, shallots and garlic; roasting times may vary.
Campbell’s Soup photo credit: MoMA
Active Time: 45 minutes
*3 red capsicum
*1 clove garlic in its skin, rubbed with olive oil
*2 small shallots in their skin, rubbed with olive oil
*3 tbsp olive oil
*1 medium-sized potato, peeled and cubed
*2-3 cups chicken broth
*1 tsp fleur de sel or sea salt
*2 tbsp soft feta
*2 tsp pignolia nuts
*Place red capsicum, shallots and garlic for roasting directly under a high-heat broiler. The garlic and shallots should be soft and ready within the first 10 minutes, remove from the oven, cool and squeeze the flesh out of the skins and set aside;
*Rotate the peppers for a total of 20 minutes as they blacken and char; when roasting is complete, remove and place in a brown paper bag for 10 minutes. This will help the skin slide off easily;
*Remove the skin and seeds and set capsicum aside, reserve the juices;
*Place a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat and add 3 tbsp of olive oil;
*Add the roasted garlic, shallots and potatoes and sauté till potatoes turn golden;
*Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and add salt, capsicum and reserved juices;
*Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, till potatoes are soft;
*Transfer to a food mill (or blender) and purée and pour back into pan;
*Simmer on a very low heat, and add water (approximately 1 cup)- create a consistency you like. Season to taste with salt;
*Decant into bowls and serve with a dollop of feta cheese, a scattering of pignolia nuts and a ribbon of olive oil, alongside some crusty bread. Swirl the feta in with your spoon before you dive in.