Apple Stilton Soup
We are seriously waterlogged here in the UK right now, whole counties of the Southwest are flooded and the storms raging off the Atlantic just keep bashing us. This, combined with a Tube strike in London this week and next and gale-force winds have kept me at home writing, not exploring. Seems I'm not alone. Suddenly, I've got lots of calls to cater parties for clients. Apparently no one wants to venture very far from their cozy flats, choosing to let the party come to them.For one dinner party I've got on the horizon, the hostess doesn't eat poultry or meat and she's pregnant, so nothing raw allowed. There are to be 12 guests with lots of canapes to start, so as I was considering the first course options (fish will of course be the main) this soup immediately jumped to mind. The subtle flavors alone keep my clients from muttering that this is just, well, soup, and when I serve it that night, to tart it up a bit, I'll add these buttery croutons and a couple of lengths of chive, because on its own this soup looks more dishwater than delight.This delicate and dare I say, sophisticated soup has been in my repertoire for over a decade now. I served this in little tea cups at my sister's rehearsal dinner party - a little like the borscht soup shooters that I wrote about last week. It was New Year's Eve and there were lots of little items guests could pick at throughout the evening, but this was the starting point when I planned the menu. She says that the soup is still talked about.A couple of quick notes. Depending on the tartness of your apples, their flavor is sometimes lost in the finished product. It may seem like cheating to add apple juice, but just a dash of it can really pep up the apple side of the flavor balance. You can also add a little heavy cream if you want this to be a richer soup, just don't add too much as it will dilute that ever-crucial harmony. Lastly, use these croutons with everything! I first made them in Level One of culinary school for our Trout Grenobloise recipe. Buttery and salty and crunchy, I could eat them like popcorn. Chef Sixto, our instructor, was very clear that they should be uniform in size and carefully browned on each and every side. I won't come around and check your technique, but he was right, those little details do make all the difference.Apple Stilton Soupserves 62 tablespoons butter2 shallots, chopped1 medium onion, chopped2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped2 thyme sprigs1 bay leaf4 cups vegetable or chicken stock5 ounces stilton cheesejuice of one lemon1/4 cup apple juice (if needed)salt and pepper to tasteprepared croutons (recipe below)chives for garnishMelt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and add the shallots, garlic, and onions. Allow this to cook for about 8-10 minutes until soft and starting to caramelize a little. Now add the chopped apples and stir well to coat in the butter and onions. Add the thyme, bay and stock, allowing pot to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Now fish out the thyme stalks and bay leaf and with an immersion or conventional blender puree until smooth. Put the soup back in the pot and add the crumbled stilton cheese, allowing it to melt into the soup. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and check for seasoning now. If the soup isn't tasting apple-y enough for your taste at this point add a dash of apple juice until it's where you want it. Garnish with the croutons and chives.Croutons2 slices of white bread2 tablespoons butterpinch of saltCut the crusts off the slices of bread and cut into uniform, small cubes. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the bread to it. Toss the cubes, making sure that all sides turn golden brown and crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain and season with salt immediately.