This good-for-you soup is easy enough to prepare and just chugs away cooking itself to savoury tenderness.
It has more flavour after it stands for a few hours (overnight is even better) before serving. Reheat gently to avoid breaking up the vegetables.
1 large leek 2 medium carrots 2 sticks celery 1 Tbsp olive oil 125g (about 4 oz) free-range meaty rashers of middle bacon, chopped 1 tsp thyme ½ cup pearl barley 2.5 litres (UK good 2 quarts/US 2½ quarts) water or light unsalted stock 1½ tsp salt 2 bay leaves 3 medium potatoes (400g/14 oz) 1 small swede, optional ½ cup canned Italian-style tomatoes in juice Bunch flat-leaf parsley, destalked and roughly chopped
1 Trim leek, split down the length and wash thoroughly. Cut into thick chunks. Trim and peel carrots and cut into thickish rounds. Trim celery, wash thoroughly and slice thickly (include a few celery leaves for flavour). Put vegetables in a soup pot with oil, bacon, thyme and 2 tablespoons of water. Cover pot with a lid and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until softened. Put barley in a sieve and rinse under running water to wash off dust. Add water or stock to soup pot, and barley, salt, and bay leaves and bring to a gentle boil. Lower heat, partially cover with a lid and cook gently for 30 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Peel swede if using and cut into chunks. Flick seeds out of tomatoes as best you can and remove any cores or pieces of skin. Roughly chop flesh. Add potatoes, swede and tomatoes (with any juice) to soup pot. Partially cover with a lid and continue cooking for about 1 hour, until everything is beautifully tender. Swirl in parsley then check the seasoning. Serve immediately, or cool and keep refrigerated for 2-3 days.
The soup can be served as soon as it is ready but it has more flavour after it stands for a few hours (overnight is even better) before serving. Reheat gently to avoid breaking up the vegetables. If you are preparing the soup ahead, cool it quickly in the pot in a sink of ice-cold water, then refrigerate soup still in the pot for ease (if the pot doesn’t fit with the lid uppermost, invert the lid and you might manage to squeeze it in, or transfer soup to containers). It will keep well for up to 3 days.