I return from the shops with brown paper bags of brown vegetables. The Jerusalem artichokes – their lumpy skins flashed with mauve – are to add heft to a pot of chicken soup, made with proper stock and finished with lemon, thyme and fried artichokes. The potatoes are to be baked and stuffed with green peppercorns, roasted garlic and herb cream cheese.
Sometimes you want chicken soup. Sometimes you need it. A clear broth will do, nourishing and untroubling to eat. But the soup I am making today is thick with not only shredded chicken from the stock, but with artichokes, too. (If you are cooking for someone who finds their presence troubling, you could make it with potatoes instead.) But artichokes it is, mostly for the velvety quality they add to soup when crushed or whizzed in a blender.
The potatoes are for more than just an easy supper. There are times when only a baked potato will do. Usually about now, when the hope and excitement of the new year is fading and the evenings are cold and damp. You can trust a baked potato. The interesting bit comes with the filling. This time, a creamy butter made with soft cream cheese and sweet, roasted garlic. The unpeeled cloves can be tucked among the potatoes, their soft toffee-hued flesh mashed into the cream cheese with thyme and lemon juice. Reassuring, nostalgic, as cheap as chips. Sometimes, that is really all we need.
The stock is crucial here. Give it time, letting the broth, aromatics and chicken simmer gently for almost an hour. It is the heart and soul of the soup. Serves 4
Jerusalem artichokes 700g
groundnut oil 3 tbsp
For the stock:
chicken thighs 800g, bone in
chicken wings a handful
carrots 2, medium
thyme 5 small tufts
celery 1 stick
black peppercorns 6
ginger 4 thick coins
Jerusalem artichokes 2
groundnut oil 1 tbsp
parsley a handful
thyme a few sprigs
First make the stock. Peel the onion, cut it in half and put it in a large saucepan or casserole. Add the chicken pieces and wings, carrots, thyme sprigs, the stick of celery, snapped in half, the peppercorns, ginger and thyme. Pour in 2 litres of water and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat, partially cover with a lid and simmer for 50 minutes, checking the water level from time to time.
Peel the Jersusalem artichokes, then cut them into large chunks. In a large pan heat the groundnut oil, then add the artichokes and let them cook for 10-15 minutes, until lightly coloured, stirring from time to time. Ladle in 1.5 litres of the chicken stock, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 minutes until the artichokes are fully tender.
Remove the chicken pieces from the stock and set aside. (You may have some stock left over, so carefully strain it through a sieve or colander into a bowl or large jug and discard the aromatics. Cool, then store it in the fridge until needed.) Remove and discard the chicken skin. Pull the meat from the bones, then tear or slice into strips and set aside.
Blend the artichokes and stock with a stick blender or ladle into a jug blender and reduce to a thick, creamy textured soup. Stir in the shredded chicken.
To finish, finely chop the parsley and stir in. Check the seasoning adding salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. (You may not need the entire lemon.) Peel and slice the artichokes, then fry them in the oil in a shallow pan for 7-10 minutes until tender and golden. Add them to the soup and then pull the thyme leaves from their stems and sprinkle on top at the last minute.
The cream-cheese filling works for both potatoes and artichokes. If you are using artichokes, slice them in half and use twice the amount of olive oil. Serves 4
potatoes 1.5kg, small, white fleshed
olive oil 3 tbsp
garlic 6 plump cloves
For the filling:
cream cheese 200g
thyme leaves 1 tsp
garlic 1 clove
lemon juice of 1, small
green peppercorns in brine 1 tsp
Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Wash the potatoes and lay them, snugly but not touching, in a roasting tin, pour over the olive oil and add a crumbling of sea salt and a grinding of black pepper. Toss them around with your hands, making sure the tubers are lightly coated with oil and seasoning. Tuck the garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled, among them.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until tender. (It is worth continually testing them – the exact timing will depend so much on the size and variety of your potatoes.) When the garlic has baked for 30 minutes, remove from the tin and allow to cool a little.
Put the cream cheese in a food processor. Pick the leaves from the parsley and add to the cheese, then add the thyme. Peel the garlic and squeeze the soft flesh inside into the cheese. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and process for a few seconds to a smooth cream, then transfer to a small mixing bowl and stir in the peppercorns. (If you have no processor, chop the parsley finely then mix with a wooden spoon.) Pile the potatoes on to a serving plate, split each down the middle and spoon in some of the herb filling.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater