There is a laborious, though gorgeous, way to make crab soup. You pull the flesh from claws and scoop out the rust-red meat from the shell. You then smash the shells with a hammer, soften onions with diced celery and carrots, and stir in tomato purée and brandy. Then flambé it and push the lot through a sieve and soften it with cream. It takes an entire morning – and uses enough kit that your kitchen will look as if you have cooked an entire wedding buffet rather than a bowl of soup. It is a recipe for a rainy day.
If you fancy something fresher, brighter tasting and with no cream, a soup that is quick and light and eminently suitable for a summer’s day, then I have just the alternative recipe for you. You need dressed crab – white or brown meat or a bit of both – a bag of sweet-sour tomatoes, a drop of nam pla and lime juice for piquancy and a couple of tiny, ripe chillies the size of a baby’s little finger. The result is on the table within half an hour, is just as good chilled as hot, and the ozone freshness of the shellfish isn’t lost in a haze of alcohol and cream.
Last weekend, I brought the soup to the table with plate of cut limes for everyone to add a last-minute squeeze of juice and a bowl of coriander leaves for those for whom crab is not the same without it. There was a salad to follow, a jumble of watercress and palest butterhead lettuce, pickled silver-skinned anchovies and hot croutons I had tossed in a frying pan with butter and crushed garlic, then mixed into the leaves. The dressing was thick and wobbly mayonnaise I had let down to a pouring consistency with a little cream and a splash of tarragon vinegar.
As always in these heady days of a slowly ripening summer, we finished with fruit. The raspberries are at their most fragrant right now. Crushed, they smell like a glass of beaujolais. I can’t think of them without being reminded of the Scottish cranachan, that glorious, almost forgotten stir-up of toasted oats, raspberries and cream. This week I rearranged those ingredients to give a dessert that ticked so many boxes: a base of toasted oats in the style of a crisp flapjack layered with cream cheese and vanilla and studded with raspberries. Long may summer continue.
A soup of tomatoes and crab
I have been finding it difficult to track down brown crabmeat of late, but the soup works well with purely white flakes of crab if that is what you have. This is a recipe to make quickly, preserving all the fresh, tomato-flecked vibrancy that makes it very much a summer soup. If coriander isn’t your thing, then use mint leaves instead, or perhaps Thai basil, introducing a light, aniseed note instead. Serves 3
spring onions 5
lemongrass 3 stalks
olive oil 2 tbsp
hot red chillies 2
chicken or vegetable stock 500ml
orange juice from 1 small fruit
crabmeat 350g, mixed white and brown
nam pla (fish sauce) 1 tbsp
coriander 1 small bunch
Thinly slice the spring onions, peel the outer leaves from the lemongrass and cut the tender inner leaves into paper-thin slices. In a large, thick-bottomed saucepan, warm the olive oil, stir in the spring onions and lemongrass and leave to soften for 3 or 4 minutes without letting them colour.
Halve, seed and finely chop the chillies and add them to the pan. Roughly chop the tomatoes, then stir them into the onions, let them soften for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, then add the stock and orange juice. As the soup comes to the boil, lower the heat, stir in the crabmeat, nam pla and a little salt, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a couple of minutes (only). Squeeze in the lime juice. Roughly chop the coriander and stir in.
Raspberry oat cake
Red alert: this fruity oat cake will soften beautifully overnight. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
The crisp oat base can be made a day in advance if you prefer and assembled at the last minute. The cake will remain crisp for an hour or two, but will soften (delightfully) if kept overnight. Let the yoghurt drip in a sieve over a bowl so that it is truly firm when you are ready to mix it with the mascarpone and flavourings. Serves 8
light muscovado sugar 115g
rolled oats 70g
porridge oats 70g
salt ½ tsp
sunflower seeds 2 tbsp
For the filling:
thick Greek-style yoghurt 250g
runny honey 2 tbsp
vanilla extract 1 tsp
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter, add the sugar and let it almost dissolve, then stir in the oats, salt and seeds.
Place a loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin on a baking sheet. Spoon half the mixture into the tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon, making sure to go right to the edges. Scatter the rest of the mixture loosely, without compacting it, on a second baking sheet. Bake both for 10-12 minutes until golden and lightly crisp (the loose mixture may take a little longer.)
Remove from the oven and leave to cool. (I like to run a palette knife around the edge of the cake tin while the oats are still warm, in order to loosen the base.)
For the filling: tip the yoghurt into a sieve and place over a suitably sized bowl to drain. (You will get very little whey from it, but you don’t want a “wet” filling.) Half an hour should be long enough, but you can leave it overnight if you wish.
In a mixing bowl, combine the mascarpone, drained yoghurt, honey and vanilla extract. Loosen the oat base from its tin, but keep the tin in place, then spoon the mascarpone mixture over the base, right to the edges, then scatter the remaining toasted oat mixture over the surface. Place the raspberries over the top of the oats, neatly or as you wish, then cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.