Sometimes days don’t go as planned; but sometimes a ‘spanner in the works’ can bring unexpected joy. The plan was mainly work – a publishing job to finish by the beginning of next week; a work meeting this afternoon. I was at my desk early but always take a break to go and buy a paper and get a coffee. After making a good start on a set of proofs, I went off to catch a bus into Richmond; the plan at this point was a coffee in Paul Bakery while I read my paper and a bit of shopping. Despite our digital age and writing a blog and having Twitter and Facebook accounts; using WhatsApp, FaceTime, and being thoroughly addicted to my iPhone, etc., I still like a real ‘hard copy’ newspaper. Just as I like an old-fashioned paper diary, opening a week to page for me to see my week ahead.
Following many grim days of grey skies and rain, it was a delight to find the sun shining, the sky a clear blue and the air crisp and as fresh as London can manage. Yes, it was a very cold but beautiful day. The ‘spanner was thrown into the works’ outside Marble Hill Park. At 9.30am I expected a clear run through to Richmond on the bus (just 10 minutes), but it came to a halt. And stayed still. For a long time. There was a long – stationary – queue in front of it. Then it inched forward a bit. But stopped again. It seemed no one was going anywhere fast by bus. So I and a number of other passengers got up and asked the driver if we could get off. The only sensible thing to do was head back to Twickenham.
Before me was Marble Hill Park. I crossed the road and went through a gate. It was quiet. Just a few people were out walking, mainly with dogs. One small one ran excitedly up to me, its owner shouting apologies in its wake.
I decided to take the path down to the River Thames and walk along the towpath back to Twickenham. Ice lay on the path so I walked carefully; a thin layer of ice across the grass looked almost like a covering of snow. The sun shone low, as it does in winter, through the trees as I neared the river. It really was glorious. I used to live very close to this park and even now am not far away. Yet I hadn’t walked there for a while, and what a privilege it is to live in such a beautiful part of the great city that is London. The famous poet Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) lived in Twickenham for almost 20 years and said it was London’s loveliest suburb. The house where he lived, and died, looked over Marble Hill Park (click here for more).
Well, coffee was still needed! Travel Gourmet doesn’t get far through the day without coffee becoming a pressing necessity. So I cut up from the river as I approached the centre of Twickenham again and walked down pretty Church Street to go into Corto Italian Deli. The whole family love Corto! I always buy Loisin panettone and pandoro from them for Christmas. Owner Romina wasn’t around this morning but she told me a couple of weeks ago, when I was wanting to buy the pandoro (because some of the family don’t like raisins, so prefer it to panettone) that Loisin were baking them that week and they’d arrive from Italy the following week. She comes from a northern part of Italy and Loisin is local to her family, so she’d visited them a few weeks ago to place her order for the deli. I love these connections; I love that her passion for food makes her search for the best. This is what makes a good independent deli so special.
I ordered a slice of panettone and a cappuccino and chatted a bit to Alicia. I was now feeling pleased that my original plan had been thwarted and I’d had to make a new one. I was having a lovely morning – albeit a longer ‘coffee break’ than I’d originally planned! – a walk through a sunlit park to the river and coffee in a friendly and cosy Italian deli with a slice of the most fabulous panettone.
‘The plan’ had also included getting ingredients to make a soup for lunch. Even when quite busy, putting a soup together is a quick affair and a bowl of homemade soup, with some sourdough bread from the local Italian artisan bakery, is so much better than anything bought. Buying ingredients had gone from my mind with the altered plan. But three large sweet potatoes were lurking in the bottom of my fridge. I was sure they would make a perfectly good soup. In fact, it was delicious.
Spicy Sweet Potato Soup – Serves 4
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 sweet potatoes (about 500g), peeled and diced
- pinch of chilli flakes
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
- big pinch of ground ginger
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- about 750ml of hot stock or water
Put the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a large saucepan with the olive oil. Fry gently, stirring regularly, until the soffritto is softening and lightly coloured. This is the base of the flavour of the soup. Now add the diced sweet potato. Stir well and continue to fry until the potato starts to colour a bit and soften slightly. Sprinkle in the chilli flakes, oregano or thyme, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir well and then slowly pour in enough stock or water to cover the vegetables.
Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down low, put a lid on, and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Check the potato is cooked through with the tip of a sharp knife. Then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Check seasoning. I like this kind of soup quite thick but if necessary, thin down with a little more stock or water until you get the consistency you want.
I served it with a little yoghurt and dusting of black pepper. You might also like to add crème fraîche or cream … or just serve it as it is.
It was absolutely perfect for an icy winter’s day lunch. I think there’s something very comforting about sweet potatoes anyway (maybe it’s that warm colour), but the addition of just a little spice with the chilli and ginger, perked up with a little oregano, gave it a terrific extra lift.