Don’t ask me why, but I find this soup makes a great hangover cure. Perhaps it’s because I associate it with the time I lived in London and would restore my flagging spirits and woollen head when I eventually rose on a Sunday afternoon, all a quiver with shakes and punched kidneys, and a liver a French farmer would be proud of, a dreadful thirst for milk, and vague recollections of the night before and the night before that, and disturbingly-vivid dreams of being captured by cannibals, and shrunken heads, and then I would wander out, and as the pub singer goes have a beer for breakfast and one more for dessert, and then head down to a pie and mash shop in Peckham, and fill myself with mashed potato.
Not the hideously-rich, sauce-like pomme puree stuff Marco Pierre White and a young, podgy Gordon Ramsay would knock out in those Harveys days, with the steaming potatoes straight into the Robot with a hod’s worth of butter and hot milk, and whizzed and topped up with more milk until it came out like pale custard.
But simple mashed spuds with just a suggestion of margarine and a cup of the river water they were cooked in. And soon, but never quite soon enough, everything would be alright with the world, and then I’d have that awful, kick-in-the-stomach start that tomorrow was Monday and I’d have to be somewhere dreadful like Hastings, with a notebook in my hand, braving the sneers and gob from the fag chuffers outside the magistrates’ court.
But it wasn’t the mashed potatoes and the dreadfully cheap and mean, but strangely acceptable Sweeney Todd pies, but the sauce, or liquor, that accompanied them. Made from, or at least claimed to have been made from, the Thames water that the eels were boiled in, with onions and pepper and bay leaves, and a garden of parsley so that there were more green specks than grey. I used to love mixing that parsley liquor with the mash and then covering the whole lot with a clattering of white pepper.
Anyway, they say food reminds you of hangovers, or vice versa. And I can positively posit that this very simple soup really does the job when it comes to banishing the evil-spirits aftermath of the morning after, when you wake feverishly with the taste of rum and lime juice in your throat, and a mint you know didn’t come from toothpaste, as you wake crumpled on the floor, the wood burner long gone out, and your face as ashen as the mound that remains of last night’s logs, and a Robben Island cold in your bones, your head rattling as though filled with dried acorns, and knowing you forgot to eat again.
And despite the hunger, there is very little you can face but parsley and potatoes, and certainly not last night’s hardly-touched kebab sealed with lamb-fat candle wax as it surely will be if the trails down your jacket are anything to go by, and then realising the pie and mash shop closed long ago, and besides you live in the country now and the nearest is a 39-mile drive.
And as you brave opening your eyes once again, and mentally scan the churlishly-empty pantry, and a dim hope ascends with bitter juice humming of rum, as you realise you’ve just about got enough ingredients to make a steaming pot of parsley soup. And an hour or so later, you’re very glad you did as you metal-scrape the last with bread, your spirits restored and last night’s bottles cleared, and a smugness that you remembered to put the bin out for once after tripping over next door’s cat, the apple missing like an England seamer, and then remember that the next day you won’t have to be in Hastings, but somewhere far, far worse.
(Serves 2 with seconds)
2 medium onions
3 medium potatoes
Knob of butter
3 garlic cloves
One massive bunch of parsley
One litre of boiling water
Chop the onions and add to a saucepan with the butter, and fry over a medium flame, stirring from time to time. Peel and dice the potatoes and add to the pan. Chop the garlic and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes until the onions have softened.
Wash the parsley well in a tub of water to ensure any grit sinks to the bottom, then slice off the stalks and chop them finely. Add to the pan and fry for another minute or so. Boil a kettle and add about one litre of water to the pan.
Simmer until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a knife - about 15 minutes, depending on the flame and type of potatoes and what altitude you’re cooking at, and other immeasurables.
Chop the rest of the parsley and put in the pot and simmer for a minute, then blitz in a liquidiser or use one of those blender sticks, or just attack the soup with a potato masher. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It goes very well with a dollop of yoghurt and a generous dusting of cayenne pepper, if your stomach can handle it.