This is a soup for the soul; chicken soup without the chicken and with no apology. It’s the get-well soup I have been searching for, to cure whatever ails you, whether that’s a cold or a broken heart. As gentle and as nourishing as they come, the soup has a base of slow-cook sweet fennel and leek, layered with old friends celery and carrot, with a pep of ginger and lemon and a warmth from a generous amount of white pepper. Crisp little pieces of tofu top the broth, sticky from a minute or two in a pan, with some soy and a sprinkling of seasoning.
The seasoning, nutritional yeast, adds depth and umami and tastes much more complex and gentle than its ungenerous name suggests (though it is a great source of elusive B vitamins for vegetarians and vegans). If you don’t have it the soup will still be delicious without. Be sure to save the fronds from your fennel and leaves from your celery for finishing it prettily.
1 onion, finely sliced
1 leek, finely sliced
3 bulbs of fennel, trimmed and finely sliced, fronds reserved
3 sticks of celery, chopped into 1cm pieces, leaves reserved
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into rough 1cm pieces
8 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
a small thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns, plus more to taste
50g small pasta or broken up spaghetti pieces
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
FOR THE TOFU
200g firm tofu, sliced roughly into 1cm sticks
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast
Pour a little olive oil into a large soup pot and place over a medium heat. Add the onion, leek, fennel, celery and carrot, turn the heat down low and cook gently for 20-30 minutes, until everything is very soft and sweet, without browning too much. Add a splash of water if it looks like anything is going to stick.
Add the garlic and ginger, cook for another couple of minutes, then squeeze in the lemon and add the peppercorns. Add 2 litres of cold water (or you can use vegetable stock) and a good pinch of sea salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Once the soup is nearly ready, toss the tofu in 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce. Heat a a pan with a little olive oil, fry the tofu over a medium to high heat until crisp then add the final tablespoon of soy sauce and toss quickly – the soy should stick to the tofu and give it a rich stickiness. Remove from the heat, add the nutritional yeast and toss again.
Roughly break or bash your pasta into bite-sized pieces of lengths, add to the soup and cook for another 8 minutes (or a long as your pasta takes). Taste and add more salt or water or even a squeeze more lemon. Ladle into shallow bowls, top with the tofu, some fennel fronds and celery leaves and a good drizzle of olive oil.
Recipe taken from The Modern Cook’s Year by Anna Jones.
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