Potage is a medieval soup-come-stew where vegetables and meat are boiled together to form a thick mush. During the Tudor period it was the sole diet of many English peasants, with self-grown cabbages and carrots from their patches. It was seen fit for a King too, and a banquet would commonly begin with potage followed by cooked meats (think pigs on spits with apples in their mouths – recipe to follow next week!). Fast-forward 400 years and this earthy mixture still has much appeal, not least because in one hearty portion you can squeeze in your entire 5-a-day.
For the Pistou
A large handful of basil leaves
100 ml Olive oil
3 garlic cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
Moldon sea salt (get your hands on this stuff, it’s the best around)
For the soup
1 celery stick
1 fennel bulb
1 red pepper
1 ripe tomato
3 slices of smoked bacon (cut into julienne)
A handful of peas
A handful of French beans (cut into ½ inch lengths)
A small handful of grated parmesan
6 slices pancetta (cut into julienne)
4 soft boiled hens eggs
For the pistou
This is like a very thin pesto. It is used towards the end of cooking, finishing the soup with a fresh flavour and bright colour. Simply put the oil, basil leaves, garlic cloves, a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper into a blender and blitz until you have a smooth bright green oil.
For the Soup
Ninety percent of making this soup is preparation. Start by cutting all the vegetables into small dice about half a centimeter in size. Then begin by gently sweating off the onion in olive oil followed by the leaks and smoked bacon. The bacon gives the soup a wonderful smoky taste. Then add the harder veg like the carrots, fennel and celery and a few minutes later the softer stuff like the courgette and the pepper. It is very important to season in layers, with a little salt and pepper, each time you add a new ingredient. This will help bring out the flavours of each of the vegetables you add. Cover the soup with boiling water and simmer until everything is nicely cooked but not mushy, adding the peas and French beans a few minutes before the end. Finish by stirring in the pistou, parmesan and fresh tomatoes and pour into bowls.
For the Egg
In a pan of boiling water drop your hens eggs in and remove after 6 minutes. Place immediately into cold running water. Once cool, peel the shells gently and put the eggs back into the pan with cold water. When you are almost ready to serve the soup, reheat the eggs from cold to around 60°C. Heating beyond this temperature results in the yolk continuing to cook and go hard.
For the Pancetta
Cut the pancetta into julienne. (This is a French term for the type of cut, making long thin strips like matchsticks. Gently sauté in a non-sick pan with no extra fat until it becomes crispy. Once cooked, place over a sieve to loose any excess fat.
Scatter the pancetta over your soup and place the egg on top. Serve straight away.