Vanessa Pike-Russell

STEVE MANFREDI beats the winter chill with the ultimate comfort food.

It's winter. It's cold and often wet. I suspect that at this time of year, a lot of people's thoughts turn to comforting bowls of steaming soup with thick pieces of crusty country bread.

For the cook, preparing soup can be just as satisfying as sitting down with friends and family to eat it. It's a dish that is economical in both ingredients and time.

Many soup bases consist of everyday ingredients such as carrot, onion, celery and herbs, as well as leftover carcasses of roast chicken and gelatinous bone joints that are indispensable for broths and stocks.

Time-wise, a hearty soup provides an economy of scale that, although taking extra minutes in chopping ingredients, is rewarded by two, three and even four ready-made meals in the following days.

And it gets better each day.

To make a good vegetable stock for the radicchio and polenta soup (right), dice a small onion, carrot and celery stick, slice a garlic clove and a small leek, then place everything in a pot with three litres of cold water. Add a bay leaf, a handful of parsley stalks and 150 grams of chopped, peeled tomatoes. Simmer for two hours, occasionally skimming any scum. Strain and it's ready to use.

smanfredi@smh.com.au

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CHICKEN AND CABBAGE SOUP

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 6 tbsp for serving

Salt and pepper

6 chicken drumsticks, skin on

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped into

1cm-thick half rounds

1 onion, peeled and chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 celery heart, chopped

½ savoy cabbage, tough leaves discarded

2 bunches cavolo nero, de-stemmed and finely chopped

300g can tomatoes, mashed

Grated parmesan

Crusty bread, to serve

Heat 4 tbsp olive oil in a soup pot. Salt drumsticks and fry - turning often - until well browned. Remove drumsticks. Add leeks, onion, garlic and celery heart to the pot and lightly fry for 2 minutes, continually stirring. Add cabbage and cavolo nero. Stir well. Cover vegetables with cold water and add mashed tomatoes and drumsticks. Season with 2-3 good pinches of salt and stir well. Bring soup to the boil then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 1 hour then turn off heat. Season to taste. Leave for 1 hour. Serve with plenty of grated parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and crusty bread. It's even better the day after - and the day after that.

Serves 6

Wine A medium-bodied red, such as a tempranillo.

RADICCHIO AND POLENTA SOUP

Adapted from the Phaidon book Vegetables from an Italian Garden

100g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water then drained

1 carrot, peeled and chopped in chunks

1 small onion, peeled and halved

1 stick celery, chopped into 1cm rounds

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

80g pancetta, finely chopped

3 radicchio heads

1.5 litres vegetable stock (or water)

100g fine polenta

Salt and pepper

Put beans, carrot, onion, celery and bay leaf into a large pot. Cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours until beans are tender. Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan and gently fry pancetta for a few minutes. Drain, reserving pancetta. Parboil radicchio heads in a pot of water for 15 minutes. Drain, cool and chop finely. Pour vegetable stock into a large pot and bring to the boil. Add chopped radicchio. When it returns to the boil, sprinkle in polenta in a fine stream, stirring constantly. Cook for 10 minutes at a simmer then add pancetta and cooked, drained beans. Stir well and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Season and serve.

Serves 4-6

Wine Spicy, medium-bodied red, such as a pinot noir or pinot meunier.


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