Start with onions. (What great beginners onions are, what splendid opening batsmen. To peel and chop an onion is to feel anticipation. You are going to cook. To cook is to eat. To eat is to live. And living starts with onions.
What modest beasts onions are too. They are the foot soldiers who die for the cause, that others might advance over their corpses. Into the pot they go to sweat and turn translucent and become the substrate of so many dishes, dishes the names of which never mention onions but which without onions would never be. Onions are the anonymous sine qua non. (Not that they'd have any truck with Latin. Onions are of the people.)
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So, as I say, start with onions. And garlic, natch. (Everything I've said about onions is true of garlic, only more so. Garlic is onion-ness compressed. And what powers have been ascribed to it. You want to kill a werewolf, a vampire, a skeletal resurrectee trailing the cloths of the tomb? Garlic's your boy.)
Dump onions and garlic and oil in a deep saucepan. (Why a saucepan? We are not making sauce. We're making, well, we're making happiness. For when we cook we are fulfilling our nature as man the maker, homo faber. (The extra Latin is just to further irk the onions.)
Add vegetables of choice. (But please, not carrots. When chopped and diced a carrot saddens the world. It sings of institutional food, of hospital kitchens, school canteens, of bland and loveless tucker.) I choose capsicums, the Ferrari red ones. I like their bulbousness, their mild exoticism.
Tomatoes are as fundamental as onions. In high summer when they're cheap and ripe I use fresh. This time of the year I biff a tin in. Then herbs. Any will do. I grow my own and they make me proud and so I use lots. Oregano, thyme, parsley at the least, chopped (and chopped, I should add, with the only knife I ever use, a $10 Chinese cleaver, wooden handled, as simple as prehistory and good for everything from bread to chicken bones, via fish-scaling and mincing ginger. And talking of ginger put some in with the garlic. I didn't only because I didn't think of it.)
A little chilli to give it grunt, then stock. By stock I mean chicken stock. All stock is chicken stock. (Don't fall into the trap of costly liquid stock. The difference between a stock cube and a liquid stock is water. For years I bought the cheapest stock cubes, the well-known three-letter palindromic ones and they worked fine. But as my eyes have aged and my fingers grown clumsier I have tired of trying to peel them from their too-thin foil.
I buy a posher cube now and to hell with the expense. It is wrapped like a tiny present in golden paper and every time I open one I rejoice at the ease of it. I thought of writing to the palindromic manufacturers to tell them why I had forsaken them, then I thought no, let them stew.)
Let it stew. Thirty minutes is good. Two hours won't hurt it. While it stews make sure that you've got bread, proper bread, bread with heft and crust, bread for dipping and absorbing, bread that's never seen a plastic bag, bread as Chaucer or Demosthenes knew bread. (And did Demosthenes know bread! The question is rhetorical and the answer is emphatic.)
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White wine, any and plenty. That $6.99 Romanian chardonnay will be fine. Just do not stint. Then coconut cream, a canful, thick and white as a seagull's breast. Bring it back to a simmer and you are ready for the last of all, the nub, the point. You've built, if you like, a stage. And now it is time for the prima ballerina to enter the follow-spot on toes so pointed they could stab.
Now - did you guess? Oh bravo - seafood. Any seafood. If it ever drew breath (I know, I know) in salt water it'll do. I buy the stuff they pile high and cheap at the supermarket. Chunks of unnamed fish, mussels like giant boogers, squid rings like schoolboy catapults, a few shrimps for effect. In it goes, put the lid on, give it 10 minutes while you down the remaining Romanian and lay out bowls and Chaucerian bread in hunks.
Is it soup? Is it stew? I neither know nor care. Like good itself, it has no name nor any need of one.