If ever asked where to eat in London my mind immediately casts straight for the amazing diversity of restaurants that line the streets of Islington. From institutions like Frederick’s which has been a tall poppy since 1969, when your mother would warn you away from the area, to Ottoleghi, the western european light into middle eastern cuisine, and Le Mercury, the stalwart of tongue-in-cheek, un-chic, ‘best of budget’ European food and atmosphere.
But one little old favourite haunt, Food Lab, has kept me inspired to do simple food really well. Tucked just round the corner from my last apartment it was the best local I could ask for. Although a late convert to the immense diversity of Italian flavours, I marvel at how far a few simple ingredients bring that sufficient complexity to a dish. Zuppa Contadina is my italian take on a ‘peasant’s soup’, with only 3 main ingredients. This dish works fantastically to shake off those cold spells and will keep for a few days gaining flavour each day.
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, thiny sliced
1/2 ring of chorizo, in 4mm slices and again into half moon
30-40g dried porcini mushrooms
handful of pearl barley
1 1/2 litres vegetable stock (preferably x2 cubes of mushroom stock)
Start by preparing your ingredients. Add boiling water to your vegetable stock, and soak your porcini in the stock until expanded.
In a heavy based saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté your onions on a medium heat until clear, around 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and sliced chorizo and fry for a further 5 minutes. The oily paprika juices from the chorizo will give you a good orange colour to the food.
Next add your stock, porcini and pearl barley and bring to the boil. Once boiling, simmer for 30 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft and swollen. Add salt and plenty of pepper to taste.
Tip: The soup will thicken up the longer it simmers, so for a slightly more soul-warming texture keep it going for a good hour. It will also gain the full flavour of the mushrooms and chorizo in just 1/2 a day, so pre-making this dish goes a long way.