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European Peasant Cookery
by Elisabeth Luard
Bouillabaisse d'épinards (France)
A very popular country soup which makes an excellent light lunch. The greens can be varied from Swiss chard through the repertoire of edible green leaves (including cabbage) which the Provencal farmer's wife is likely to grow in her vegetable patch. 'Bouillabaisse' is a description of the cooking method rather than the ingredients — the soup is boiled very fast to allow reduction by evaporation.
Quantity: For 4 people as a main dish
Time: Preparation and cooking: 40 minutes


• 2 lb spinach
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large mild yellow onion
• 4 medium potatoes (yellow and waxy, if possible)
• 2 garlic cloves
• Salt
• 1 small head fennel
• 1/2 teaspoon saffron
• 4 eggs
• A few slices day-old baguette

Utensils: A saucepan and a large soup pot (an earthenware marmite is the proper utensil)


Wash the spinach carefully (if it is fresh) and put it in a pan with a tablespoonful of the oil and the water which clings to its leaves. Cook it in its own moisture for 5 minutes, until the leaves are wilted. Drain and then chop the spinach finely.

Peel and finely chop the onion. Peel and slice the potatoes. Put the water to boil. Peel and crush the garlic — a blow from the flat blade of a heavy knife will serve the purpose. Chop the fennel into short lengths.

Warm the rest of the oil in the soup pot. Add the onions and cook them for a moment until they are transparent. Push them to one side. Add the spinach and turn it in the oil. Add the sliced potatoes, and enough boiling water to cover to a depth of 2 fingers. Now add the salt, garlic, the fennel, and the saffron. Bring all rapidly to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked. When you are ready to serve, slide in one egg per person onto the surface of the simmering soup. Poach the eggs gently for 2-3 minutes, spooning hot soup over the top so that the white sets into a veil for the soft yolk. Serve in deep soup plates, with a slice or two of baguette rubbed with garlic and dried in the oven in each. Be careful not to break the eggs as you take them from the broth.

• To make a bouillabaisse de petits pois, replace the spinach with shelled peas. Possibly even better than the spinach.
• Replace the dry bread with little croutons fried in olive oil perfumed with garlic.

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