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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am

I love soup - every time I cook it, I wonder why I don't make it more often. People have been making soup since mankind learned to boil water, but in the hands of a careful cook, it can be absolutely delicious, even if it's made up of odds and ends out of the fridge. For these recipes, home-made broth or stock will make the end result much better than if you use canned broth (if you must use the latter, dilute it with water). It's easy enough to make a batch of chicken broth - just rinse the bones, blanch them in boiling water, then drain. Rinse the bones again then put them in a pot with some chopped carrot, leek tops and a stalk of celery, and enough water to cover the ingredients. Place over a medium flame and as soon as it bubbles, lower the heat. Cook the broth at a bare simmer for a few hours before straining. You can make a big batch and freeze what you don't use immediately.

Kabocha squash soup with foie gras and croutons (pictured)

1 kabocha squash, about 1.5kg

30ml olive oil

50 grams unsalted butter

1 large leek (or two Japanese negi), white and pale green part only

?tsp piment d'espelette

?tsp paprika

About 1 litre unsalted chicken broth, preferably home-made

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 slice (about 125 grams) raw foie gras

2-3 slices bread, crusts removed

About 45 grams butter, for making the croutons

A few chives

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cut the kabocha into thick wedges and place them cut-side up in a roasting pan. Rub the cut surfaces with olive oil then add about 150ml of water to the pan, cover it tightly with aluminium foil and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Leave until it's cool enough to handle, then scrape out the seeds and fibres from the cavity and remove the rind.

Trim off and discard the root end from the leek (or negi), then cut it in half lengthwise. Cut the halves into 5mm pieces then put them in a colan- der and rinse thoroughly.

Put the butter in a soup pan set over a low-medium flame. When the butter is half-melted, add the leek and cook for five minutes, or until wilted, stirring often. Add the kabocha flesh, piment d'espelette and paprika, then season with salt and stir for about 30 seconds. Turn the heat to medium and add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Pur?e the soup in a food processor or blender, then strain through a sieve or food mill.

Make the croutons: cut the bread into small (about 7mm) cubes. Melt the butter, add the bread and stir so the pieces are thoroughly coated; if needed, add more butter. Cook the bread cubes over a low flame, stirring often, until they're lightly toasted and crisp.

Cut the foie gras into 1cm cubes. Heat a skillet until it's very hot, add the foie gras and sear on all sides until it's lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Reheat the soup until it's simmering and taste for seasonings; if it's too thick, add more broth. Ladle the soup into bowls, add some croutons and foie gras cubes then use kitchen shears to snip the chives over each serving.

Albondigas soup

This soup is hearty enough to serve as a main course. The recipe is based on one in Nothing Fancy, by Diana Kennedy.

For the albondigas (meatballs):

15 grams raw long-grain rice

?tsp cumin seeds

180 grams minced pork

180 grams minced beef

1 egg, whisked

3 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

?tsp dried oregano leaves, lightly crumbled

50 grams white onion, minced

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup and garnishes:

15ml cooking oil

1 large shallot, minced

1 large garlic clove, minced

450 grams chopped Italian tomatoes

180 grams carrots, cut into 5mm cubes

180 grams small zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced into 5mm pieces

1.25-1.5 litres unsalted chicken broth, preferably home-made

Fresh green chillies, finely chopped

Fresh coriander leaves

Minced white onion, rinsed under cold water then drained

Dried oregano leaves

Rinse the rice in a small sieve. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, add the rice then remove the pan from the heat and leave for 30 minutes before draining. Toast the cumin seeds over a low flame in a small unoiled skillet, stirring constantly so they don't burn. Cool the cumin seeds then crush them coarsely in a mortar.

Put the rice and cumin seeds in a mixing bowl, add the pork, beef, egg, oregano, mint and onion, then season with salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly then shape the mixture into meatballs about 1.5cm in diameter. Put the meatballs on a tray lined with cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat the oil in a soup pan set over a low flame. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini, chicken broth and chillies to taste. Season with salt and pepper then bring to the boil. Add the meatballs then lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed. Ladle into bowls and let your guests add coriander, white onion and oregano.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee

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