To achieve the maximum taste from this soup it is best to buy some fresh ham or bacon, to soak it in cold water for 24 hours to remove any saltiness, and then cook it in some stock. This will create a good ham stock, and you can cut up the meat to go in the soup. If this all sounds a bit too much, then you can make a vegetable broth and I would suggest you add some diced smoked ham to give a more pronounced flavour. Anyway, here is my recipe for the original idea.

The soup can be served as a starter, main course or a supper dish. It looks lovely in a bowl with all the colours and tastes there. You can make it with your own favourite vegetables and serve it with garlic toasts and Parmesan, fried croûtons or just good old–fashioned bread and butter!

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Ingredients

For the Ham or Bacon

  • 900 g (2 lb) raw bacon or ham collar, soaked in cold water for 24 hours
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 25 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2.25 litres (4 pints) Chicken Stock or water

For the Soup

  • 450 g (1 lb) carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 6 celery sticks
  • 450 g (1 lb) swede
  • 450 g (1 lb) parsnips
  • 100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • 50 ml (2 fl oz) olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 50 g (2 oz) pearl barley (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Method

To cook the ham or bacon, roughly chop all the vegetables into 1 cm (½ in) dice and cook in the butter for about 5 minutes without allowing them to colour. Add the herbs, cover and continue to cook until slightly softened. Keeping a lid on the vegetables will create steam within the pan; this prevents them from colouring and cooks them at the same time.

Pour on the chicken stock and bring to the simmer. Add the bacon or ham and bring back to the simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 45 minutes. Leave the meat to stand in its own cooking liquor until cold. This part of the job can be done the day before or in the morning. It keeps the meat moist and helps the stock take on the maximum taste.

Remove the bacon or ham from the stock and cut it into 1 cm (½ in) cubes. Strain the stock through a sieve.

To prepare the soup, roughly chop all the vegetables into 1 cm (½ in) dice, keeping the swede and parsnip separate from the others. Melt the butter in a large pan with the olive oil. Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic, cover and cook for 2–3 minutes. Add the pearl barley, if using, and cook for a further 2–3 minutes, stirring from time to time. Pour on the reserved stock and bring to the simmer. Allow the soup to simmer gently until the diced carrots are softened, about 20 minutes.

Add the diced swede and parsnips and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked. Add the diced bacon or ham and season with salt and pepper.

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