Thursday, 17 April 2014

Alexanders soup

I guess Alexanders are associated with being more of a coastal plant but as it is a(nother) Roman import it can often be found in areas which have had a Roman presence, so I'm presuming that is why I find them near my home in Hertfordshire.

The stems in the patch near me are in a rather shaded spot and therefore still quite small and tender so are usable. The processing, apart from chopping, refers to the fact that the stems need scraping as they have a rather strong taste. Alexanders have a lovely celery like taste (it was superceded by celery) but it has to be scraped to achieve this...Take a big bite of celery leaves to get an idea of the taste.

So onto the soup. It is no different to making any other basic soup in that I use the Alexanders, water, stock and maybe some creme Fraiche at the end. Watercress works well with this combination too.


The bunch I have in my is just about enough for a bowl of soup (I say just as I added a couple more stems. And to the rather labourious task of peeling/ scraping off the stringy, slightly clingy skin ( I use both a knife and peeler to achieve this).They are quite fragile so peel carefully.

You can see the difference in colour between the unpeeled stem at the top of the left hand side picture, and the peeled stem. A shot of the stringy skin and leaves after finishing the preparation of the stalks.

You can clearly see the striking resemblance that the prepared stems have to cultivated celery in this shot on the left hand side. Once prepped, chop the Alexanders stalks up into small pieces.

Next mix up some vegetable stock, this is one dry Oxo vegetable cube to just over half a pint of boiling water. place the stock and chopped Alexanders stalks into a saucepan, initially over a high heat and then simmer for a few minutes. 

You can see in the saucepan shot a small squareish shape, that is a small piece of Parmesan 'skin' for a little flavour. What you do is select the size of skin that you want and cut off three times as much cheese with it. You then cut the cheese off where it joins the skin, chuck the skin into the soup and eat the Parmesan! (a piece of Parmesan is very nice with vintage cider but I digress...). Once the soup is done strain the Alexanders pieces off from the soup, it's a bit stringy to leave in. This is obviously a thin soup as it is but it can be thickened.

I stayed in Pembrokeshire in Wales a few years ago and before I went I tapped up a guy called John Fenna (who folk may know as a poster, kit reviewer and wise old egg from the BCUK forum and various meets) and we met up at the Castell Henllys  Iron Age village reconstruction. As my family and I were staying by the coast we were surrounded by Alexanders...The only trouble was that they were a little tough. I ended up chopping the stems up and making a stock with them and substituted a courgette into it and as above, put a small piece of Parmesan rind in. 

Once we'd been around the site we sat outside near the roundhouses and I offered John some and I'm pleased to say that he enjoyed it, he also commented that the Castell Henlys inhabitants may well have consumed something similar (minus the courgette and Parmesan obviously).

So why is the name of this plant a plural? Alexanders soup sounds silly, should I have put Alexander or is it like the word sheep which can be singular or plural?

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