North Sea Scullery takes a look at Ivy Manning’s new book Easy Soups from Scratch with Quick Breads to Match and catches up for a soupy chat with the author.
My mother makes great Tattie Soup. It’s a classic case of a simple dish transcending minimalist ingredients. Tatties, onions, neeps and carrots in a mutton broth – that’s it. But done properly, the result is outstanding. When I was a kid I bashed up this soup into basically mash in a bowl of broth. Best of all was to pair this brilliance with big chunks of white bread from the local bakery – the kind with the crust burnt so hard it was like cracking glass.
There are just days when nothing else but hot soup and a chunk of bread will do.
It’s exactly this impulsive ‘call-of-the-soup’ that drives the keenness of Ivy Manning’s student to learn soup-making and the writer’s own determination her new book should be both celebration of the stocky stuff and the breads to go with. It’s a simple idea, done properly.
Called Easy Soups from Scratch with Quick Breads to Match, Manning’s book features 65 variations of the soup/bread combination from around the world. So, there is Sausage Gumbo and Pimento Cheese Drop Biscuits. Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Soup and Savoury Teff Pancakes. There is Farro Minestrone and Roasted Garlic Focaccia. There’s also lots of options to choose other combinations – the Minestrone for example also goes with Manning’s Olive and Prosciutto Rolls. It’s great fun.
The bread and soup partnership is what drew North Sea Scullery to Easy Soups. With a keen sense of our limitations as bakers, the breads here are all achievable and straightforward – and don’t require two and half days to make. You still need care, mind, but it’s nowhere near as bewildering as other books we’ve tried. By the end of a week we could knock together some convincingly fine mini soda breads, for example. When you’re not much cop as a baker but you love the idea of rustling up a batch of bread of some kind, the classic “kitchen filled with the aroma of baking bread” idyll, this book is a good one.
From the soup side, we made the Soulful Chicken – but of course, you just have to, it’s chicken soup after all– and meandered off onto some of the more surprising inclusions like the Cincinnati Chili FiveWays (complete with Cocoa) and the Irish Stew.
It was a different Irish Stew from our usual – which has more of the clear broth quality of the Chicken soup – but the resulting robust Scouse-like dish was a real success. It was interesting because here at the Scullery there are strange arcane distinctions at work between a soup and a stew (for example, the exclamation: “this soup is so thick it’s almost a stew) so the interchangeability between the two in this book is good fun and widens the range of recipes in a good way.
The book Quick Soups most reminds us of from recent Scullery favourites – in terms of the experience of cooking from it – is The Indian Cookery Course by Monisha Bharadwaj. Obviously, the source is completely different – well not entirely, Manning does include soups and breads from around the world – but what is strongly familiar is the practicality of the recipes, and the eye out for folk who need just a bit more help. From dish one – the Irish Stew – it was clear to us that Manning is a very strong recipe writer. In time, if we cooked through every dish in the book, it’s likely they’d all work. They’d stand or fall on our skill in meat cooking on fat, the quality of our ingredients, patience with the flour … but they’d all work. This is due to the clarity of the recipes – and particularly in the case of cooking times and clarity of ingredients.
We also like the design. It’s not a massive tome, but a controlled book of just over 170 pages, with a sensible size and weight for actually cooking from, super clear text, and excellent photography. We also liked the double colour ribbon – which allows you to have one on the soup and the other on the recommended bread. This is particularly useful because the way the book works, bread making often takes place while the soups and stews are cooking. Of course, you don’t have to follow the recommendations – we didn’t always – and that’s another strength here. The book offers clear instruction if you want and need it, and inspiration to experiment enabled by the strength of the basic recipe in the first place. There can always be a debate over whether recipes are limiting or restrictive, but for amateur cooks they are motivational when written well.
This is a great book if you love soup, love bread – particularly if both sometimes feel like a challenge. Soup in particular is such an ostensibly simple thing, but so easy to get wrong. If you know also someone who loves a bowl of the hot soupy stuff, adores bread but fears baking, buy two – your Christmas present worries may well be over.
North Sea Scullery catches up with Ivy Manning – to ask about soup, baking, Portland, and all things Easy Soups.
NSS: For those readers who haven’t seen your book yet, can you say a bit about it – the ideas & inspirations behind it?
IM: Sure! I have been teaching cooking classes for the last 15 years and one of the most popular class subjects is soup. I like soup, but I feel that they’re not ‘complete’ without a little matching bread to have with it, to dunk in the soup, or mop up the last bites in the bottom of the bowl. I knew that many of my students are either intimidated by baking, or they just don’t have the time. So, I wrote the book with recipes for breads that could be completed while the soup was simmering. Easy stuff like savoury scones, rye muffins with ‘everything’ bagel topping, yogurt flatbread, beer bread. All the recipes are ready in an hour or under, and there’s all sorts of cheffy tricks I’ve used to get you to soupville in that amount of time.
NSS: Soup and bread are an essential partnership, but as amateur cooks we sometimes find cooking and baking to be two completely different arts! Do you think that’s a common worry?
IM: Yes, like I mention in the first question, my students and readers often tell me they are either a baker or a cook. That’s why I explore the “quick” part of bread baking in this book. Absolutely anyone can handle making cornbread, flatbreads, and pao de queijo and the like. I even supply a list of tips to up your baking game and some trouble shooting tips, too.
NSS: For those of us who do find baking a bit of a struggle, do you have any key bits of starter advice to improve our chances?
IM: Yes! Get a kitchen scale! All my baking recipes include weights, so you can accurately measure ingredients. It’s so much easier, too, because you’re not scooping out and measuring flours and other ingredients. You just put the bowl on the scale, add an ingredient, press “tare” and add the next ingredients. No need for measuring cups. In the U.S., this practice is still relatively new to home bakers.
I’d also advise changing out your baking powder and baking soda every six months. Most of the recipes in this book don’t rely on yeast, they use chemical leaveners. But most cooks have baking powder in the cupboard that’s ancient, and it doesn’t remain effective forever.
NSS: We enjoyed the Irish Stew and Cincy Chilli in your book, but in the Scullery we wouldn’t really class them as soups?
IM: Hmm, well chili of any sort is always considered a soup. In the case of the Irish Stew, I guess we use stew and soup in the same category—liquid meals of varying thickness!
NSS: If time, ingredients, place were no object, what would be your absolute favourite soup and bread combination?
IM: I had a bouillabaisse with a ficelle baguette in Le Seyne-Sur-Mer in the French Riviera that I’m positive cured me of the worst cold I’ve ever had. It was the full on ‘order 2 days in advance,’ 2 course extravanganza. I remember the bite of the garlic and the perfect texture of the soup course, I just kept dipping baguette into the bowl to soak up all of the shellfish flavour. It was an elixir for sure.
Another particularly great soup-bread memory was in Guadalajara Mexico where I had a goat and red chile soup served with rustic corn tortillas. There was so much collagen in the broth that it made my lips stick together a bit. The tortillas were tucked in a rustic napkin and the waiter just kept replacing the tortillas with fresh, warm ones. I think I ate my weight in soup and bread that night. I was seriously high on the food, absolutely giddy. Even the kind of chile they use to make the broth is particular to that region, so much depth. My poor vegetarian husband was so patient with my ravings.
NSS: We really liked the size and feel of your book – it’s very focussed and clearly designed – even down to the handy double ribbons (one for soup and one for bread!). Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in the design process for the book and its stages? Are you happy with how it turned out?
IM: The designer is Alice Chau at Chronicle Books, so the design is all her. The photos are by my good and brilliant friend Dina Avila and I was lucky to be there to help guide the style of the food styling while she shot the book. We wanted warm, cosy, but accessible. Visual comfort food. I love the photos and the ribbon was a total surprise—I love ribbons in books!
Re: Design, I did express my interest in calling out the active and total time each recipe takes in the margins as I wanted to encourage readers and let them know that soup and bread is a doable combo, even on a weeknight.
NSS: Can you tell us a bit about Portland? If we were travelling, where would you recommend we stopped by for the best bowl of soup?
Oh, Portland. It’s a quirky, rainy town that just marches to the beat of its own drum. It’s a little city, surrounded by farms, vineyards, and forest full of wild things to eat. I think the concentration of great food here is extremely high. Maybe not on the Tokyo scale quite yet, but it’s so varied—I can get anything from Northern Thai to Cajun, to Peruvian, to Haitian, all in my little neighbourhood. And there are no rules. You can totally get one of the best meals of your life and show up wearing a raincoat and jeans. We don’t have a lot of fancy fine dining, but we do have great food. I’m a jeans-and-t-shirt girl and live to eat, so it suits me just fine.
One of the places where I always order the soup is Acadia, a lovely little Cajun restaurant in my neighbourhood. I got a lovely recipe from the chef, Seamus Foran in the book. It’s a silky corn and buttermilk soup with crab and crispy lardons. It’s heaven in a bowl. He’s always got a great seasonal soup going. And his cornbread with honey butter…well come for a visit and I’ll show you!
NSS: We’d love to! And, what’s next for you – are you already working on another book?
IM: I just finished my 7th cookbook. It’s called Italian Instant Pot. It will be out in February from HMH. It’s available for pre-order now. I’ll make sure you get a copy
NSS: Thank you, Ivy!