Dispatches From an Austrian Grocery Store
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My Kitchen and Broccoli Soup


The boxes are unpacked, the cookbooks are once again in their shelves, a few paintings grace the walls and there are fresh towels in the bathroom. My name isn't yet on the doorbell, but I've got a basil plant thriving in the warm light that comes through the window from the balcony. I don't have a phone line yet, but my living room looks almost lived in. And though I haven't yet got a table and chairs in the kitchen, I made lunch there the other day, the first real thing I've cooked since moving in, and the smell of browning onions and boiled broccoli was the best sign of being home.


Sadly, the lovely apartment I ended up in doesn't have a gas stove. A lot of apartments in Berlin don't have them anymore, out of what seems to be a combination of modernity and fear. (Of gas leaks, explosions.) So instead of flames at the hearth, hissing away as I boil water or fry an onion, I now have a sleek, black induction stove, which looks super cool, but is eerily silent and, I find, a little strange. I'm getting used to it. I don't know if it's my imagination or not, but water boils awfully fast on it, which is rather nice. Perhaps I've got a physicist or two in my audience who can tell me if I'm making this up or not? In any case, it's easy to clean. Which is good, too. Like I said, I'm getting used to it.


The kitchen is lovely. Flooded with light and with a gorgeous view, I feel really peaceful when I'm in there. Sometimes I can hear traffic a few streets away, and sometimes I hear little birds chirping in the eaves outside my window. All my old friends are gathered together: my blue soup pot, my knives from college and New York, my grandmother's spatula, a tea kettle given to me by an old boyfriend over a decade ago. I've got Rancho Gordo beans in the cupboard and two kinds of brown sugars in the fridge (thank you, Nikolas!). I've got parchment paper in the cupboards and my trusty lipped cutting board at the ready.


I can already tell, good things are going to come from here.


And last week, a few days before I left for London, where I spent the weekend with my friends, strolling through Borough Market, marveling at stylish London girls, buying killer cheddar and Cadbury's speckled chocolate eggs at Sainsbury's and drinking, yes, quite a lot of tea, I made soup in the new apartment. My very first proper meal cooked there, if you don't count the spaghetti with tomato sauce I made for a couple friends who came over to help me put up shelves and do a bit of drilling a few weeks earlier.


I found the soup recipe in a free magazine from a grocery store chain here that my mother picked up for me, which sounds rather unpromising, I know, but trust me. It's just broccoli and potatoes boiled in chicken stock, then puréed and topped with fried onions and Speck and little slivers of mint leaves. It's simple and easy and awfully filling, plus it looks just darling, especially when spooned into lovely antique plates bought at a flea market in Paris ten years ago and then forgotten about in a basement until now.

Oh, right, and it tastes good, too.


The last week has been warm and sunny here. The trees sport fat buds, crocuses are peeking up from the moist ground, I hear birds chirping before the sun goes up and the air is fairly bursting with anticipation for spring. We're not quite there, yet, as today's cold wind reminds me. And the markets are still only selling asparagus and peas from far away countries like Greece and Spain. But today I saw local rhubarb for the first time, so pink the stalks almost glowed. And I have plans for tomato plants on my balcony, and little gherkins so I can make my own cornichons later this year.

It's going to be a good spring.

Broccoli Soup with Speck
Serves 3 to 4

1 medium yellow onion, minced
6 slices Speck or pancetta or unsmoked bacon, finely diced
1 lb (450 g) floury potatoes, cubed
6 cups (1.5 liters) chicken broth
1 lb (450 g) broccoli, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint

1. In a small pan, cook the onion and Speck together over low heat until the onion is translucent and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a covered soup pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the cubed potatoes, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped broccoli, mix well and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, purée until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Ladle the soup into plates and sprinkle a spoonful or two of the bacon-onion mixture over each serving. Top with the sliced mint and serve.