Lunch was in the garden, with jam-jar flowers on the table and an odd assortment of chairs. A laid-back affair with a thick bean soup, bowls of salad – tomato and basil, potato and rocket, soft lettuce with heart leaves the color of primroses – and a wicker tray of young goat’s milk cheeses.
The bean soup was made with skinny leeks I had initially taken for spring onions, flageolet and broad beans and a cheap bunch of asparagus. I brightened things up with lemon zest, parsley and parmesan, and wrung a lemon into the hot, green stock.
Later in the week I made another summer soup, this time with plump little cakes of prawn, ginger and lemongrass at the bottom of the bowl, like sunken treasure. Both were light and yet satisfying – a perfect accompaniment to a midsummer lunch outdoors.
A clear summer soup with prawn cakes
I like to keep the cakes tiny – barely bigger than a spoonful or two in size. They are easy to turn in the pan when made small, and less likely to crumble as you flip them over in the sizzling oil. They are also worth making to serve as a sandwich, wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves in place of the more usual bread, the folds of lettuce stuffed with pea shoots or watercress and a smudge of wasabi paste. Serves 4
For the prawn cakes:
fresh white bread crumbs 100g
cilantro 20g (leaves and stems)
Thai fish sauce 2 tsp
mirin 2 tbsp
lemongrass 2 stalks
garlic 1 clove
raw, shelled prawns 250g
groundnut oil 2 tbsp
For the soup:
shell-on prawns 8-12, small to medium ones
red chilli 1
ginger a 40g lump
garlic 1 clove
groundnut oil 1 tbsp
fish sauce 2 tbsp, or to taste
Put the breadcrumbs and cilantro leaves and stalks into the bowl of a food processor. Add the fish sauce and mirin. Thinly slice the lemongrass and add to the crumbs. Peel the garlic and peel and grate the ginger and add to the bowl, then process for a few seconds. Add the prawns and process briefly. Take care not to overwork the mixture: you should still see small pieces of prawn.
Roll the mixture into 12 small balls, flatten slightly, then place on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.
Heat the oil in a shallow pan over a moderate heat. Place the prawn cakes in the hot oil and fry for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are lightly browned.
Make the soup: peel the prawns and put the shells and heads into a deep saucepan, add 1½ liters of water and bring to the boil, skim and discard any froth, then turn down to a simmer for 25 minutes. Top the liquid up if you have to.
Split the chilli in half lengthways, then scrape out and discard the seeds. Peel and shred the ginger into fine matchsticks. Peel and finely slice the garlic.
Warm the oil in a wok or high-sided frying pan then add the finely sliced garlic and fry briefly. Add the chilli and the ginger and cook for a minute or two before adding the prawns. As they start to change from gray to pink, pour over the strained stock and bring to the boil. Leave the soup to simmer for 8-10 minutes, then stir in the fish sauce and the juice of the lime. Put 2 or 3 of the cooked prawn cakes into deep bowls then ladle the hot soup and prawns over them.
Asparagus and broad bean soup
I find soup sustaining enough for a summer lunch when made with all manner of vegetables and beans jostling one another, ladled into your bowl with generosity, and there is good bread and cheese to follow. I keep the soup green and summery with asparagus, broad beans and courgettes, but you could add tomatoes, too. The recipe can be made vegan, should you wish, by removing the parmesan.
broad bean 400g, weighed in the pod
young, thin leeks 200g
vegetable stock 1 litre
flageolet beans 1 x 400g can
parsley a handful
grated Parmesan cheese 4 tbsp
Pod the broad beans, boil them in lightly salted water, then drain and cool them under running water. If they are small and very tender, leave the skins on; if they are larger than a little fingernail, then I suggest popping them from their skins. It doesn’t take long once you are in the rhythm of it.
Thickly slice the leeks. Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep pan over a moderate heat then add the leeks. Let them cook for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring from time to time, so they soften without coloring. (You can prevent them from browning by covering with a lid or a piece of greaseproof paper, so they cook partially in their own steam.)
Trim and cut the asparagus into short lengths and stir into the leeks, then do the same with the courgettes. Continue cooking for 5 minutes then pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Drain and stir in the flageolet beans and a little salt, lower the heat to a simmer then leave to cook for about 15 minutes. Finely chop the parsley. Finely grate the zest of the lemon then mix with the grated parmesan.
Check the soup for seasoning – it may need salt or black pepper. Ladle into bowls, halve the lemon and squeeze a little of the juice into each bowl, then scatter over the parmesan, lemon and parsley.
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