Three is the magic number for Hugh

Red lentil onion and bacon soup
Red lentil onion and bacon soup

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The number three has a mystical significance in many religions and it also works wonders on a plate.

Three may be a crowd on the dancefloor, but in the culinary world of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall it’s the perfect marriage.

In what will be music to the ears of many a time-pressured cook, the TV chef has come to the realisation that some of the best dishes centre around just three main ingredients.

Although there may be other ingredients in the recipes, they all stick to the magic formula. And the three essentials isn’t new, as Sue Stokes explains. She is the founder of Southsea Greenhouse, which delivers organic fruit and vegetables to customers in the city from local sources.

Sue says: ‘To me the three main things you need are salt, pepper and olive oil, but if you were looking at creating a recipe then tomato, onion and peppers. With a good tomato base you can make lots of things, and the onions and peppers will add a little something.

‘We are busy people and it’s nice to be able to make something quickly from things you have in the cupboard which keep for a long time.’

Southsea Greenhouse not only sends out fruit and veg boxes, but also provides recipe suggestions. Similar products are given out to customers each time as it is seasonal, and customers give them back their very own recipes.

Sue adds: ‘In a sense we get lots of different recipes using similar ingredients, which leads back to using three foods. We can put it with the veg boxes the following week, or put it on our Facebook page, so people can learn to explore new ways of cooking with similar produce.’

Naturally, you can’t sling any three things together and expect them to work. But the best combinations can be deconstructed into three distinct adjectives, such as sweet, crunchy and peppery.

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· 1tbsp rapeseed, sunflower or olive oil

· 4 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped

· 1 onion, chopped

· 200g split red lentils, well rinsed

· 1 bay leaf and/or a sprig of thyme (optional)

· Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and fry for a few minutes so the fat starts to run. Add the onion and sweat gently over a low heat, stirring from time to time, for a good 10 minutes until soft and silky.

Stir in the lentils, then add about 800ml water. Add the bay and/or thyme if you have them. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 15 minutes or until the lentils are completely soft and breaking down.

Remove the bay and/or thyme if used. Blitz the soup in a blender or with a handheld stick blender until smooth, adding just enough extra water to get a thick soup consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, then serve.

TOP TIP: A few more snippets of bacon, fried until crisp, make a lovely sprinkle, as do some simple fried bread croutons.

Hugh’s Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is published by Bloomsbury, priced £25. Available now.