If osso bucco is a complex symphony, baked alaska is a frivolous operetta and a jam doughnut is a song by Cliff Richard, then a bowl of fine soup is a fugue. The best soup unites ingredients that act beautifully together; separate but always enhancing and echoing each other, just like a fugue.
As I write this, I’m listening to Bach’s The Art of Fugue. It’s a piece of music I can listen to endlessly and often do. My fugue soup is the perfect accompaniment — and very satisfyingly it’s not just fugal but frugal.
The only essential thing about this soup is that it should be cooked so lightly as to keep its bright green hue — khaki vegetable soup is more requiem than fugue. But you can vary the ingredients depending on the season. That way your soup will be both different and the same, as is a fugue.
- 2 litres vegetable stock
- 200g podded or frozen petit pois
- 200g broad beans
- 2 medium courgettes, cut into small dice
- 200g fine asparagus
- 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
- 4 spring onions or scallions, chopped finely
- Handful herb flowers such as thyme or chive
- Handful chopped chives
- Handful torn basil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Bring the stock to a simmer. Add the broad beans and blanch for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put aside in a bowl. When cool, peel off the leathery skins and discard. With the stock still at a simmer, add the asparagus and one of the diced courgettes to the liquid and blanch for 3 minutes. Remove these vegetables too and put aside. Add the peas. Blanch for no more than 1 minute if they’re frozen and 3 minutes if they’re fresh, before removing and once again putting to one side. Reserve the stock.
In a small frying pan, gently heat the chopped spring onions and garlic in the olive oil. Allow to soften but not to brown. Add the second diced courgette to the frying pan and allow it to soften too. Tip the onions, garlic and courgette mixture into the stock and cook gently for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add half the blanched peas and heat for a further minute. The courgettes and peas should still be bright green — it’s crucial not to overcook the soup and thereby allow shades of combat trousers to enter the spectrum. Process with a stick blender in the pan until smooth. Just before serving, tip in all the remaining blanched vegetables that you put to one side at the start. Season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls in which you have placed some shredded fresh basil leaves. Top with a handful of chopped chives and some herb flowers.
Eat while listening to my favourite performance of The Art of Fugue, by the Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff. It’s the version chosen by novelist Vikram Seth for the CD that he compiled to accompany his exquisite musical novel An Equal Music. So in true fugal counterpoint, you can eat fugue soup, while listening to the The Art of Fugue and reading about The Art of Fugue at the same time. What could possibly be more fugal?