Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Salad as Soup

Lettuce, Lovage & Risotto

Do you have archetypes about foods you didn't even know about?

My archetypal lettuce is a cold crisp head of iceberg, in salads and as garnishes for sandwiches and burgers.
Despite the fact, I can't tell you the last time I had it. With this cold, crisp lettuce in mind, would you cook lettuce? I would have said no are you crazy, this is the second last thing I would cook (the first being fruit).

Butter Lettuce

Having seen a tv chef make a cream-based lettuce soup from leftovers, I was intrigued to try this recipe and, well this is exactly what we did. With 2 special vegetarian guests, Daniela and Shula, this Wednesday was all-veggie: Lettuce and Lovage Soup followed by Mushroom Risotto.

Now most of you will have asked, as we did, what the hell is Lovage? The only thing I knew, it is supposedly in season. Lovage "is a hardy perennial herb with ribbed stalks similar to celery with a strong taste and smell similar to celery and parsley" ( It seems to be an herb commonly used in the past but which is in an currently in a ebb. Unfortunately, we could not get lovage (hopefully it will make an appearance in the near future), instead using fresh tarragon as the suggested alternative in the recipe.

1 medium onion, chopped
a little butter or olive oil
2 large butterhead lettuce (or the outer leaves from four or more lettuces)
250g frozen peas (or fresh shelled weight)
1L good chicken or vegetable stock
5-6 fresh lovage leaves (plus 4 more to garnish) or 3-4 sprigs fresh tarragon
salt and pepper

1. Sweat the onion in the oil or butter until soft, then add the peas and lettuce. Pour over two-thirds of the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 4-6 minutes (cook until tender).

2. Remove from the heat and add the lovage leaves or tarragon, then blend the soup with a hand blender or in a liquidiser. I blended 1/3 coarsely so it has some texture and 2/3 more smoothly. I prefer a thicker soup but use the remaining stock to thin it to your preference.

We served this hot but following are instructions for chilling and/or reheating.

3. To serve cold, chill in the fridge, or if you're in a hurry, transfer to a cold bowl and place this in a second, larger bowl half filled with iced water. Stir until chilled, changing the water and adding more ice as necessary.
4. To serve hot, reheat, stirring occasionally and do not allow to boil. In both cases, garnish with a single lovage leaf or a tiny sprig of tarragon in each bowl.

(original recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Risotto is a staple in our house, usually a more wintry dish but as the weather hasn't been all that warm, we can be forgiven. This was made by the standard stirring stove-top method with brown and portabello mushrooms diced and added to the onions and cooked until softened before adding any liquid (alcohol or stock - I use various alcohols for the first 1/2 cup - today it was Gordon's gin, but i have used Bombay gin, rum and vodka).

Any suggestions on other alcohols or flavouring to use with risotto?

Now to the cheese used to finish this dish, as Daniela doesn't eat rennet we separated into 2 pots using as rennet-free parmesan in one and romano in the other. As always, delicious!

We enjoyed a nice red wine - Gato Negro, courtesy of Daniela.

What food archetypes do you have?
How does a staple food/flavour go out of style? Do you have any examples?


Laura said...

I can hardly believe we made lettuce soup, mainly for the reasons you discuss - namely that we think of lettuce as being fairly bland and certainly cold - but it worked quite well (though the peas and tarragon helped!). I like your description of lovage. I wonder if I can find it in England when I am there this summer?

As for food archetypes and fashions, I think the food world resembles any other creative arena in its ebbs and flows, as you say. Will aspic come back, do you think? Certainly it has become fashionable once again to use parts of an animal (trotters, snout, tongue) in certain high-end restaurants that hadn't seen the light of day for a long time.

I guess everything comes and goes - like the current food photography trend for simplicity. Perhaps soon we'll see a comeback of cluttered overly-precious set-ups like those of the fifties or seventies!

Paula said...

Other booze to add to risotto? I find whenever mushrooms are involved, a splash of dry vermouth can create miracles.

paula said...

When you say you wouldn't cook fruit, you must be forgetting about apple pie, grilled pineapple, strawberry rhubarb crumble, poached pears, and so many other wonderful cooked fruit delicacies!

Laura said...

Paula, the vermouth sounds like a fantastic idea. We should try that! As for the fruit, all of those things are Michelle's idea of food hell - she hates all cooked fruit! But they sound heavenly to me!