The most important thing that has influenced my cooking abilities, that has pushed me to be more creative and helped me develop my skills in the kitchen, is refusing to throw things away. I don’t mean actual rubbish or anything that’s gone off, but just those extra bits of ingredients that don’t necessarily get used up easily. This has resulted in an interesting stash of random ingredients in my freezer, including breadcrumbs, fresh ginger, celery, egg whites, cooked bacon and, for some reason, half a lime.
One of the things I freeze is parmesan rinds, on the advice of Nigella Lawson in How to Eat. I also have a half-empty bottle of truffle flavour olive oil taking up room in the cupboard, so made use of both of them in some soup. I chose ‘Peasant Soup’, a recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights. It’s essentially a basic bean soup, starting out with the usual chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrots, then adding beans, kale and cheese and stock. I substituted the kale for baby spinach, which worked pretty well.
I chucked the (defrosted) parmesan rind into the soup whilst it was cooking and was blown away by the difference it made to the flavour of the broth. I usually use stock cubes for soup-making, going for mid-range ones that have some flavour to them, but are obviously not as good as homemade stock. The parmesan rind (which should be removed before serving) added real depth to the soup, making the broth something to celebrate, rather than just a background note for the beans and vegetables.
As for the truffle flavour olive oil, I used some of it to cook down the vegetables before adding the liquid to the soup, but it didn’t seem to make that much impact on the flavour. I had better success using it to roast some diced potatoes for another meal. The flavour of the oil stood out a bit more in a simpler dish, and the potatoes were particularly tasty stirred into some scrambled eggs.