zaterdag 27 december 2008

Soupe Flamande with Creme Fraiche and Frizzled Sprouts

Like parsnips and celery, sprouts also heighten considerably in flavour after a hard frost. I like to cut them on the whole stalk and leave them attached outside the kitchen door so I can just pick off a few as and when I need them. Tiny, hard, tight button sprouts are best of all, needing only brief cooking to retain their full flavour and vibrant green colour. Before the joys of the kitchen garden, by far the hardest task at Christmas was to trek around, battling with the rest of the Christmas shopping, to try to find enough small sprouts to last over the holiday. Not so now. But higher up on the stalk there will always be a few large, fat, open-textured golf balls which, though not suitable for long cooking, are just perfect for making this classic Flemish soup from Brussels. So creamy and subtle is it that even determined sprout haters have been known to succumb to its charms.

12 oz (350 g) potatoes
2 large leeks
12 oz (350 g) Brussels sprouts
2 oz (50 g) butter
15 fl oz (425 ml) hot stock made with Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder
1 pint (570 ml) milk
2 rounded tablespoons crème fraîche
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly milled black pepper
4 level tablespoons crème fraîche
8 large sprouts, trimmed and shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil

Start by peeling and thickly slicing the potatoes. When the leeks are trimmed and washed, cut them all the way through, vertically; then chop them into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces. Then trim the base of the sprouts, discard any damaged outer leaves and quarter the larger sprouts and halve any smaller ones. Next, melt the butter in a good large saucepan, add the potatoes, leeks and sprouts, and stir well to coat them nicely in the butter. Add some salt and freshly milled black pepper, turn the heat to low, put a lid on and allow the vegetables to sweat gently for 5 minutes. Then add the stock and milk bring everything up to simmering point and cook very gently for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Because of the milk, it is best to put the lid only three quarters on, to prevent everything boiling over, and to keep the heat really low.

After that, liquidise the soup and then return it to the pan; add the 2 rounded tablespoons of creme fraiche, then reheat the soup gently, taste and add a good squeeze of lemon juice, and more seasoning if it needs it.

Make the garnish while the soup is reheating. To do this, heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan over a high heat, and when the oil is really hot and shimmering, add the shredded sprouts and fry them, stirring occasionally so they don't catch on the base of the pan. When they are crisp and golden brown, which should take 2-3 minutes, lift them, using a draining spoon, on to crumpled kitchen paper to drain. If you want to make the garnish in advance, you can re-frizzle the sprouts in a hot frying pan just before serving. Serve the soup in hot bowls with a little crème fraîche spooned on top of each one and garnished with the frizzled sprouts.

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