Nicole Pisani, chef and author of Magic Soup, on a day spent teaching young marketeers the secrets of soup-making
Words: Nicole Pisani
Image: Regula Ysewijn
I love having the opportunity to talk to children about my favourite thing in the world: food. When I was invited to help a group of young marketeers from local secondary schools prepare for their winter soup sale at Borough Market, my aim was not only to teach them how to make soup from scratch using surplus veg donated by the traders, but also to provide them with a few tips on how to give each soup their own individual twist. It is this creativity, I explained, that would allow their offerings to stand out on sale day, when all proceeds will be going to the brilliant charity FairShare.
We started with a walk around the stalls, giving the kids the chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Market and take in the colours and textures of the amazing array of fresh produce on offer. They loved the crazy shape of the romanesco cauliflower, all the incredible mushrooms and the bright hues of the rainbow chard. So often the veg we see today comes pre-packaged, or even pre-chopped, so the Market’s muddy carrots and potatoes gave the children a true sense of produce coming from the soil.
Buzz in the air
When we got back to the Cookhouse, there was a buzz in the air and everyone was excited to get cooking—even if they weren’t quite so excited about all the chopping. We started with the foundation of any good soup: the stock. This involved us taking the trimmings from the vegetables and adding them to pans of water, together with sea salt, peppercorns and bay leaves. Once our stock was bubbling away, I taught each class some basic chopping skills, which they put to good use on some onions. These were then softened in the pan to get our soups going.
Next, the creative part. I explained that once the children had a feel for the basics, it would be their own creativity and taste that would make each soup individual. This would be especially true when it came to garnishes.
The first soup we made together was cauliflower and almond milk: a really simple, tasty, smooth-textured dish. I explained that my own favourite garnish for this soup was dukkah, a Middle Eastern spice mix made with finely chopped nuts and seeds. When I sprinkled it over the soup, one of girls observed, “Oh, so it’s like glitter!”
The children’s creativity really came into its own when we made miso soups. They could choose what to add to the broth from a table of ingredients: fresh tofu cubes dusted with spices and sesame seeds, finely sliced fresh chillies and spring onions, and sauteed cabbage.
When we made a simple root vegetable minestrone, I explained that in my home country, Malta, we would add soft fresh goat’s cheese just before serving, while in Italy you would usually include some small pasta and then finish off with grated Parmigiana Reggiano. I encouraged them to think about what they’d like themselves so they would then find it easy to excite their potential customers on sale day.
I came away from the Market feeling very lucky to have met and spent time with all these great young people. It was a privilege to teach them a few cooking and presentation skills that I hope will inspire them to really go for it, both on sale day and beyond.