Edinburgh is a marvellous city and one that I used to frequent lots in the late 1980s when I worked up there. A sprawling up and down place full of endless back lanes and hidden streets, it makes for a perfect walking city to do a lot of exploring. It is steeped in rich history, and a visit to Scotland's capital is not complete until you have traipsed every one of its cobbled streets.
Thankfully Edinburgh has a lot of charming eateries, and after a full day of manoeuvring, it isn't hard to find an escape to refuel in. The Spoon Cafe in Blackfriars Street is everything you could want from a cafe; an unpretentious chalk board menu showing 2 or 3 simple Mediterranean influenced starters, mains and desserts; hot and fresh food cooked in front of you with not a microwave in sight; smiling happy owners and a real sense of pride in what they were doing.
We opted for a bruschetta with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and roquet, followed by chunky sweetcorn chowder and a pork belly and chickpea soup with oven fresh bread. A little Spanish custard and a smoothie ended things perfectly before the train home, and I had to thank the owners for providing what really should be the benchmark for all city centre cafes.
I've devised a soup influenced from what I had eaten at the Spoon Cafe. It isn't as charming as the piping hot bowl I had in Edinburgh but it reminded me why I love simple rustic unfussy food so much; delicious, cheap, sustaining food for the soul which soothes stressed heads and eases tired limbs. And that is why I get excited about such simple, unknown pleasures.
Ham Hock, Borlotti Bean and Kale Soup
For the ham and stock
1 ham hock
A few black peppercorns
2 or 3 bay leaves
3 large floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
A good pinch of saffron
A pinch of cayenne pepper
750ml of ham stock
Ham from your cooked hock
250g of cooked borlotti beans
A few handfuls of sliced kale
1 - To cook your ham and make stock, put all of the ham and stock ingredients into a pot. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-2 and a half hours. The meat will be cooked when it falls from the bone.
2 - Remove the ham and leave to cool. Remove the fat and then peel off the chunks of delicious gelatinous ham.
3 - Pour the stock through a sieve and reserve. You can freeze what you don't use.
4 - To make the soup, heat up the oil in a pan. Add the onion, celery, carrot and potato and cook for 5 minutes. Add the paprika, cayenne and saffron and stir for 1 minute.
5 - Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrot and potato have softened.
6 - Add the beans and kale. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.
7 - Finally, stir in the ham and heat through. Taste for seasoning then serve in large bowls with good bread.