Day 50: Beetroot Soup & Homemade Sourdough
inspired by Moro
I’ve spent a lot time recently thinking about what I wanted to cook for my 50th dish. It feels like a bit of a milestone, doesn’t it? Something worth celebrating.
Thinking about it I probably eat out about 50 times a year. That’s roughly once a week. But there’s no way I would eat in 50 different restaurants. When you take out the local pub, the regular curry night and favourite pizza place its actually far fewer.
And yet in 50 days I have planned and eaten 50 dishes from 50 different restaurants. I have never looked at as many menus online. Never read so much about food. I’ve even started dreaming about cooking.
And I don’t regret a minute of it. Starting this crazy cooking blog was the best thing I could have done. It gives me a structure, keeps me creative and above all gives me a way to connect with friends and strangers alike.
I have loved hearing about food my friends and family have tried to make, the cookbooks they have ordered, or simply the laughs they have had reading about my kitchen antics.
So how to commemorate all this on Day 50?
At first I thought I should attempt to bake a cake. Perhaps get a candle to stick in it to celebrate? But that didn’t feel quite right.
Then I thought I should attempt some ridiculous Michelin starred creation. You know, one that is all spheres and cylinders on a plate. That didn’t inspire me either.
In the end it was simple. I asked myself where have I had some of my best meals? Where have I been for celebrations? And then finally, which of those places have I not yet written about?
And the answer was Moro.
If Morito is the little sister then Moro is the grown up of this restaurant family. Opened on Exmouth Market in 1997 and going strong ever since.
Also still going strong, I discover, is their sourdough starter.
Yup they have the same sourdough mother that they walked into the restaurant kitchen with 23 years ago.
Isn’t that incredible??
I wonder how many of our lockdown sourdoughs will still be going in 23 years. Will 2043 produce as many homemade loaves?
Somehow I doubt it.
But the sourdough loaf (along with the infamous banana bread) has become a sort of food symbol of our current situation. We are time rich. We are eating in.
And most importantly, no one can find any yeast.
We take sourdough for granted nowadays. Every restaurant seems to have it. You can buy it in bakeries. You can have sourdough pizza bases. In fact the Wild Beer Company even make a beer with it.
But in 1997 apparently it was not so common. In fact most people who ate it at Moro in the early days had probably never even heard of it.
Moro was opened, and is still run today, by Sam and Sam Clarke.
I seem to have a thing for restaurants run by couples. Maybe that’s because, as someone who has shared countless hours working in the pub with Aidan, I know what it’s like to work with your partner.
It’s not very often you find a couple with the same names though. Samantha Clarke surname was Clarke before she married Sam. In fact they were introduced because of their matching names. The rest, as they say, is history.
History involving some very good bread.
Fast forward to 2009 and Nigel Slater writes and article for the Guardian entitled, simply, “Why I Love Moro”.
What struck me as special about Moro still strikes me to this day. The extraordinary bread, craggy and chewy, slightly sour; somehow humbling. Bread to make you rethink what bread should be. Bread, incidentally, that launched a thousand pots of bubbling “starters” hidden at the back of Britain’s fridges.Nigel Slater, Guardian, 2009
So why do I love Moro?
Yes the bread is delicious. As is everything they cook. Even if you haven’t heard of half of the ingredients before.
I love the ambience in the restaurant. It manages to strike that perfect balance between feeling like a proper restaurant, but also being casual. I love that there are people there celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. But there are also people there after work. Or just sitting at the bar with a glass of sherry.
Sherry it turns out is the only thing I didn’t love about Moro. After a lovely birthday meal here we decided to order a flight of sherries to finish the meal. Sherry, it seems, is quite a big deal here. After tasting all of them I learnt one thing. I do not like sherry. But we finished them anyway. Rude not to.
But back to bread.
My sourdough starter has been fed for a week. Other than the one small hiccup where it decided to overflow it’s jar and spew all over the kitchen floor it has been a simple enough process.
So on Monday, when I had decided today was the day for sourdough, I set about working out how, and more importantly when, to make one.
My advice to anyone thinking about making a sourdough is work backwards to decide when to feed your starter.
I’m following a recipe by Tom & Henry Herbert, aka the Fabulous Baker Brothers. Their recipe was in a Saturday Times magazine a few weeks ago. Since then the ripped out page has been stuck on my fridge. Ready for when I need it.
It turns out the recipe is also on the Herbert brothers bakery website, Hobbs House Bakery. So I reckon I can take the scrap of magazine off my fridge now. It is starting to look a bit tatty.
I realise working out the timings sounds a bit like a school maths problem.
If Libby feeds her starter at 8am, leaves for 12 hours, makes her dough, rests for two hours, shapes her dough, proves again for 12 hours, and then cooks her bread for 30 minutes, what time will Libby be eating bread?
The answer is about 11.30am the next day. When you account for making and shaping the dough. Midday if you also allow for cooling.
Just in time for lunch.
It’s already too late on the Monday to get started. Not unless I want to get up at 3am to shape my dough. So I’m starting on Tuesday morning. Which means the bread should be ready just in time for my 50th blog post.
However this makes me a little nervous. Suddenly there seems to be quite a lot of pressure on this loaf. No time to make a second if the first is a disaster. I might have nothing to write about other than clearing out my fridge (look forward to more on that tomorrow).
So I’m making soup too. Unlike baking, which is tricky and unpredictable, soup is a reliable friend in the kitchen. You can put pretty much any bits and bobs in a pot, cook it with stock and blend it, and you have a meal. A bowl of soup has never let me down.
Plus is will go rather nicely with my sourdough.
Onto Instagram I go to find out what sort of soup Moro make. Beetroot soup looks good.
Beetroot Soup with Dill, Black Cumin and Seasoned Yoghurt
I have some beetroot in my fridge. Only the vac packed stuff but that will do. I only have regular cumin and no dill. I’m guessing seasoned yoghurt just means add some salt? Who knows…
I’m too excited for bread the next morning so don’t quite wait the full twelve hours of the second prove. In the recipe it says 8-12 hours so 10 should be fine. A happy medium.
I preheat my oven and I’m ready to turn my sourdough out of it’s proving basket. Except I didn’t have a proving basket. I have no idea what a proving basket is. I don’t even have a big enough loaf tin. So my bread has been proving in a casserole dish. Which, as it turns out, is not the right sort of place for a sourdough.
Mainly because I can’t get it back out. My sourdough has decided to stay put. Much like my crème caramels yesterday.
I don’t want to ask Aidan for help. He’s still asleep. I doubt he would appreciate being woken up because of my baking incompetence.
I’m on my own.
After staring blankly at it for a few minutes I grab the dough and wrestle it out of the pot. This means two things. One, it has totally lost it’s shape and looks like a mangled mess. Two, I’m pretty sure I’ve knocked all the air out of it. I don’t know exactly why that is bad. But I’ve watched enough Bake Off to know it’s not good.
But at least it’s finally on the preheated tray (which to be honest isn’t very hot now) and into the oven it goes. I leave the oven door open to go and get some water to put in the bottom. This produces steam which helps it bake.
I’m just about to pour the water in when the fire alarm goes off. I’ve forgotten to shut the kitchen door.
This causes a chain reaction. It makes me jump, which makes me burn my hand, which makes me pour water all over my feet.
It also wakes Aidan up.
After wafting a tea towel around like a madwoman I open doors and windows and shout up the stairs to Aidan to let him know I’m not burning the house down. Just baking.
Whilst I wait for the bread to bake I google how to get dough out of a proving basket. Ahhh, this is making sense now. I can see why a proving basket is useful. It will hold more flour around the sides, which will stop the bread sticking. It will also make the bread a nice shape.
I find a video from Tom Herbert himself, half of the Fabulous Baker Brothers whose recipe I am following. I quickly realise it would have been a lot more sensible to watch this before I started. Too late now.
Tom describes how to shape dough to stop it looking like a cowpat. I look in the oven. Mine definitely looks like a cowpat. Let’s hope it tastes nice.
After half an hour the rather crusty cowpat comes out of the oven and is left to cool.
I hear Aidan coming downstairs. I’m about to show him what I’ve made. Then I realise he’s carrying the neighbours cat.
Oh no. I’ve still got the doors open. The cat got in and went upstairs. And woke him up, again.
Aidan gives me, and the crusty cowpat-like loaf I’m clutching, a slightly sleepy scowl, and then goes to eject the cat from the premises.
After the house has been secured against future feline invasions I set about making soup.
I stand there stirring my pot of vegetables, chewing on a slice of my freshly baked sourdough. It may look a bit like a cowpat but it tastes delicious.
As I blend the soup I feel a growing sense of achievement. Not about the soup. Not even about the bread (well maybe a little bit) but for this whole food blog experience.
In both baking and blogging I have just begun and have a lot more to learn.
But in both cases I’m also so glad I started.
Right now I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than standing in my kitchen stirring soup.
Except, perhaps, at Moro.
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 stick celery
- 3 small potatoes
- 1 pinch paprika
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 700 ml vegetable stock
- 300 g cooked beetroot
- 1 bunch fresh herbs (like thyme, parsley or coriander)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp natural yoghurt
- Roughly chop your onion, garlic and celery. Add a lug of oil to a deep pan and add the veg. Sweat gently on a medium heat until soft.
- Peel and roughly chop your potatoes. Add them to the pan with the paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Give everything a stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock and leave to gently simmer for 20 minutes.
- Chop the beetroot. Once the potatoes are cooked add it to the pan and let it warm through. Then blend with a hand blender until smooth.
- Check the seasoning and stir through a handful of chopped herbs (whatever you like, or have in the fridge). Serve with some yoghurt and a drizzle of olive oil.