The ideal multipurpose food

03:24, May 10 2012
Soup for the soul: Bread and tomato soup is an Italian creation, originally designed to make use of stable bread and overripe tomatoes.


Growing up in Hawke's Bay influenced my attitude to food and cooking. At the weekends there were forays into the countryside to pick luscious stone fruit or buy garden-fresh vegetables from roadside stalls.

Cooking classes at intermediate school were eagerly looked forward to because they were an introduction to dishes of the world including cooking soup (minestrone) from scratch – sauteing at least five different chopped vegetables together, adding a little macaroni, seasonings and water and simmering until cooked. How simple, yet delicious and healthy.

Soup is the perfect multi-purpose food. It can be a warming winter lunch, an after-school snack, an introduction to dinner or a complete meal in one pot. Easy to digest, soup is enjoyed by young and old.

Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups we know today. "Restoratifs" such as pot-au-feu, bouillion and consomme, were the first dishes served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris.

Tomato and bread soup is a traditional Italian creation that makes something special out of foods that have outlived their usefulness – in this case, stale bread and overripe tomatoes.


Chowder is one of the heartiest of soups and corn is the champion of chowders.

It is likely that North American farmers created this chowder because corn and salt pork were always staples "down on the farm".

Although the first recipe for corn chowder is dated 1900, it was probably being enjoyed long before this.

Soup has also played many roles in Chinese cuisine.

It is commonly served as a palate refresher in much the same way as we would enjoy a glass of water with our meal.

Herbal Chinese soups are famous for their reputed medicinal properties.

Ideas for soup garnishes:

Sprigs of fresh herbs or chopped fresh herbs.

A swirl of sour cream, cream or yoghurt.

A drizzle of avocado oil.

Petite slices of toasted French bread or croutons.

A dollop of salsa or pesto.

Diced or julienned red or green peppers.

Finely grated cheese such as parmesan.


Best served freshly made.

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

6 cups cubed day-old white bread (crusts removed)

2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes

4 cups tomato juice

4 basil leaves, sliced

Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste

1-2 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Saute the garlic, until just fragrant.

Add the bread, stirring until all the oil is absorbed and the bread slightly toasted.

Add the tomatoes, juice and seasonings. Bring to a simmer.

Cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, until the bread breaks down. Mash.

Taste for seasoning and stir in the red wine vinegar. Serves 6.


3 Tbsp canola oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

400g purple-skinned kumara, peeled and cubed

900g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 Tbsp standard flour

1/2 tsp each: curry powder, ground paprika, freshly ground black pepper, crushed chilli paste

Salt to taste

6 cups vegetable stock

1 cup coconut cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, until soft.

Add the kumara and pumpkin. Stir well. Add the flour and stir, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add the seasonings and stock. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until soft and the flavours have mellowed.

Puree with a hand-held blender or in a food processor. Return to the saucepan with the coconut cream. Heat through gently – do not boil.

Great topped with sprigs of coriander. Serves 6.


2 cups dried green peas

1 bacon or ham hock

1 bunch fresh mixed herbs, for example thyme, basil, rosemary, chives, tied with string

1 each: onion, carrot, celery stalk, diced

2 litres hot water or vegetable stock

Wash the peas well and soak while preparing the other ingredients.

Place the hock in a large saucepan with the herbs, water and vegetables. Add the drained peas.

Slowly bring to the boil. Remove any surface foam with a large spoon. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat and peas are tender. Discard the bunch of herbs.

Remove the hock and allow to cool a little. Discard the skin and bones. Finely dice the meat.

Puree the soup then return to the saucepan with the meat. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Serves 6-8.


Use a mild-flavoured vegetable stock so it doesn't overpower the corn flavour. To make the soup even more exotic, add 1/4tsp of saffron threads to the soup when adding the stock.

1kg frozen whole kernel corn, slightly thawed

1/2 cup water

750ml (3 cups) vegetable stock, heated

1 cup cream

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1-2 tsp lemon juice

Puree the kernels – using a hand-held blender or food processor – until smooth. Place in a heavy, wide-based saucepan with the water. Heat over very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent the mixture sticking to the base.

When the mixture is warm, add the vegetable stock. Simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Blend, until smooth. Sieve and season.

Add the cream and oregano and slowly bring back to the boil. Season with lemon juice. Serves 6.

Copyright Jan Bilton

The Marlborough Express