I was, for some years, a serial ripper-outer. It was in the days when the food section in newspapers was minor; a paragraph, possibly a line drawing and a good, usually un-fussy recipe that you may well make that night. And I did, supper cooked according to a column, the paper curling in the steam of it all. These torn strips, many the brilliant Lindsay Bareham writing in the Evening Standard, were as much a part of my cooking education as lessons from my mum, my cookbooks and Keith Floyd on the telly. Somewhere in one of the boxes in my parent’s garage – that I really need to deal with – is a fat bundle, by now yellowed, the paper clip probably sunk so deeply that its rusty mark is branded. Somewhere in that bundle are the recipes for white bean humus I made most weeks for about a year, tasty breaded lamb chops (if I remember correctly there were capers in the mix, which felt racy) and potato and herb soup.
The potato and herb soup was a recipe I ripped from a newspaper on a tube, probably on the circle line. I followed the recipe in the kitchen of my flat on Paddington street, which means it was 1998 or 99 and I’d recently left Drama school with swagger and dread. I can’t remember what had gone on that day, but it required the comforting embrace and soporific effects of something warm and savory – and plenty of it – eaten with a spoon. I will have bought the herbs from one of the middle eastern shops on Chiltern street, cursed the kitchen door that opened inwards in front of the fridge several times during the cooking, and eaten the soup sitting on the rug because I didn’t have a table. My shoulders dropped and my stomach unraveled, the torn strip won a place under a fridge magnet until I moved.
I still turn to potato soup, often. Actually these days it is usually pasta e patate, which is best described as a simple potato soup in which you cook a pasta, a minestra to be eaten with a spoon. This is the ideal recipe for an old style recipe column, the this is what you should have for super sort: take an onion, a carrot, a rib of celery, a bay leaf and a couple of potatoes, chop and sweat the lot gently in olive oil, add water and simmer, add pasta and simmer more, tweak with salt, pepper and grated pecorino. I am tempted to say this soup is a sum far greater than its parts, but that makes it sound grand and it isn’t. It is neat though, the potato collapsing into a starchy, almost silky stock in which you cook the pasta, the starch of which thickens everything further. Thickens, but not too much, after all this is all about eating with a spoon. My shoulders drop and stomach unravels at the very thought of this.
pasta e patate
You could of course add pancetta or use stock of some kind if you really want.
enough for two
- an onion
- a rib of celery
- a medium carrot
- a bay leaf
- a big potato
- olive oil
- 100 g pasta (short or broken spaghetti)
- salt, pepper and pecorino
Peel the onion and carrot and then dice along with the celery. Peel and cut the potato into chunks. Warm some olive oil in a heavy based pan over a medium low heat, then fry the onion, carrot and celery (along with a pinch of salt) until soft and translucent. Add the bay leaf and the potatoes, stir and then fry for a couple of minutes more. Add a liter of water and another pinch of salt, bring to a lively simmer and the reduce to a gentle simmer for 15 mins or until the potato is soft – you can break it up sightly with back of a wood spoon. Add the pasta, raise the heat slightly and cook for another 10 minutes or so or until the pasta is cooked, stirring and adding a little more water if it looks to be getting too thick. Taste for salt and grind over some black pepper. Serve immediately with some grated pecorino stirred in if you like.