Sunday, January 25, 2009

Courgette, Cumin and Chick pea soup

Mid summer and the courgettes
are growing like magic beans. I like courgettes but they are very plain and I tend to mix them with other flavours - roast tomatoes, onions, and brie all go well but one of my especial favourites is cumin. And if I am going down the middle eastern or indian flavour route then chick peas are a great choice because cumin also goes with most types of beans as well. I am using the chick peas here for that floury texture they have so they go in early and get cooked through and blended with the rest of the soup.

The courgette I had was quite large so the quantities here are larger - a pint and a half of stock, instead of my usual pint and a quarter.

- Begin by warming some olive oil and a half inch slice of butter in a saucepan.
- Add in an onion peeled and sliced and three or four garlic cloves peeled and crushed.
- Chop up the courgette and open a tin of chick peas and rinse them under cold water (in a seive under the tap)
- Cook until soft and translucent the add in a dessertspoonfull of ground cumin seeds and the roughly chopped courgette and half the chick peas.
- Stir about to mix, turn up the heat and continue to cook until the liquid released by the courgette has pretty well evaporated.
- Add in a chopped tomato (skin and all) and a pint and a half of half strength vegetable stock from powder.
- Let it come to the boil the turn the heat back down and gently cook until the courgette is softish.
- Let the soup cool for a few minutes the blend smooth.
- Return to the now clean pan, reheat and add salt or pepper if you think it needs it. Mine didn't but it all depends on your stock.

A handfull of coriander leaves would have been good with the soup but I didn't have any so I sprinkled on some fennel seeds that had been gently toasted in a dry frying pan until just brown. They added a nice crunchyness and went well with the lemony tang of the cumin.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Leftover rice

My favourite foods all seem to be white.

Rice, pasta, bread, couscous, noodles. I can happily eat a bowl of any of them on their own with nothing but some salt and pepper. Seeing as the oven was already on, lunch today was left over rice heated with some butter.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tomato, Bean and Spinach soup

A pure soup for when you need clarity in your life.

This soup uses a base prepared first and then used to cook the additional flavourings so you could easily prepare a large batch of the base and freeze some to use later.

- Peel and roughly chop up half an onion and peel a clove of garlic.
- Pop in a pan with some oil and cook gently until the onion is soft and translucently honey coloured.
- Add in some tomatoes, a tin of plum tomatoes or half a dozen fresh ones chopped up. The soup will be strained through a seive so don't worry about the skin or seeds - put it all in.
- Add a pint of half strength vegetable stock and simmer gently until the tomatoes are broken down and soft, about twenty minutes.
- Put a sieve over a bowl, pour the soup in and rub it through with a wooden spoon to separate out the lumpy bits. Squash the garlic against the sieve and push it through as well.

If you have made lots, this is the point to freeze some for later.

- Pop the soup back in a pan along with a tin of beans (I used cannellini)that you have rinsed under the cold tap and warm gently .

Fresh would be nice but they are best soaked overnight and not being that organized I generally use canned, just be sure to rinse off that strange gooey water that they come in. Canned beans are very delicate of course and will easily break up if you boil the soup too fiercely so bring them up to heat very gently and only cook long enough to warm them through.

Last thing to go in is the spinach, their are two ways to do this. You could add it straight to the soup to cook but this will risk breaking up the beans so I usually cook it separately and put some in the bowls and pour the soup over to serve. It does not have to be spinach of course, any vegetable would do - celery, cabbage, broccoli even. These take longer to cook so add them at the same time as the beans and serve the soup as soon as they are just cooked. But spinach it was this time so . . .

- Rinse the spinach under the cold tap to wash of the grit then drain and put into a warm saucepan with just the water left sticking to it. Stir around a bit while it steams until it wilts, this only takes seconds.
- Put some spinach in the bottom of each bowl, ladle over the soup and serve with some plain bread.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper soup

I don't know about you but in the heat of Summer my thoughts constantly turn towards strong flavours. For dinner tonight I made a punchy combination of chorizo, courgette, and apple all fried with some garlic and a sprig of rosemary, and then served with spaghetti, a salad of lettuce and spring onions and lots of salty pecorino cheese. For lunch we had a sweet potato and red (bell) pepper soup which whilst milder was certainly no wallflower by comparison.

As I have mentioned before I am not a great fan of raw pepper but roasting them first loses that harshness that I do not like. This is a soup made by roasting the base ingredients rather than frying - ideal if you already have the oven on for something else, the sunday roast perhaps.

- Peel and roughly chop into big chunks an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic. Roll them about in an oven proof dish in a tablespoon or three of olive oil along with some salt and a sprig of thyme if you have some. Chop up the pepper the same, remove the seeds and add to the onions and oil etc.
- pop it all into the oven and leave for a good twenty minutes until soft and blackened at the edges. A hot oven is best, as hot as it will go but it depends what else is in there. I often put them in when the roast first goes in and then turn the heat down when the peppers etc come out.
- Pour the oil from the bowl into a saucepan (keep the vegetables of course!) on high heat and pop in a big sweet potato (kumara here in New Zealand, I got the right one this time) that you have peeled and roughly chopped, big chunks again.
- Stir around until the kumara blackens at the edges then add in the pepper, onion etc.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock and turn the heat down to a gentle boil.

I suppose you could roast the kumara as well but I have a theory that stock made from powder is better cooked for a good while so I usually do it this way.

- Twenty minutes or so later the kumara should be soft so blend the whole lot smooth. Oh - remember to take out the thyme stalks first because they just stay as irritating little bits after blending.
- Reheat and serve.

We had ours with some bread made with my favourite curry spice mixture (I used ground cinnamon and chilli powder) and topped with mint leaves. The bread was not that exciting on its own but went really well with the soup.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tomato and Rosemary soup

Thursday 2.37pm

It is bitterly cold and dark - the middle of Winter. Christmas and New Year have been celebrated and now it is that dead period of the year, January/February, when there is nothing happening and nothing to look forward to. Or at least what there is to look forward to seems a long, long way off. You need something to cheer you up, something interesting to eat but your body does not yet have that yearning for salads that suggests Spring is close by. But what?

Well how about an intensely flavoured tomato soup made with ingredients from the store cupboard, or the modern equivalent - the supermarket, along with some sort of evergreen herb. I like Rosemary but you have to be carefull because it is quite strong and can easily overpower everything else.

- Peel and chop two red onions and a couple of cloves of garlic and set to cook very slowly in some olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the saucepan. Leave for a good fifteen/twenty minutes.
- Add in a tin of plum tomatoes, a couple of tablespoonfuls of tomato puree, a tablespoonful of white or red wine vinegar and three quarters of a pint of half strength vegetable stock from a cube or powder.
- Leave to bubble away gently for ages - twenty minutes or more.
- Blend it smooth. You don't have to do this it is just my preference and the taste is slightly different blended to unblended.
- Reheat in the washed out saucepan adding some black pepper and salt if necessary.
-While it reheats drop in a sprig of rosemary, removing it as soon as you can just taste a hint of Rosemary in the background.

I served mine with some thin flat bread spread with butter, garlic, salt and more Rosemary leaves before baking. A brief memory of Summer in the middle of Winter like a dream that all to quickly fades.

Of course if you are in a hurry you could just open a tin of cream of tomato soup and drop in the rosemary sprig whilst warming it through, but where is the fun in that?

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

and talking of Jamie Oliver

And talking about Jamie Oliver and "passing it on", over 700 people have now downloaded a copy of my book since I put the full version on scribd just 17 days ago.

Pretty amazing really and quite a lot of soup!

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

A simple Shellfish Broth

Sunday 10.21am

After a day at the beach I arrived home with something completely new to me - a bag of shellfish. They were Tuatua, a type of small clam and it seems that collecting them is a bit of a tradition amongst kiwis, both Maori and Pakeha. But how to cook them? I have never cooked shellfish before and I suspected that my scottish upbringing was not going to help here - you cannot really batter and deep fry something with a hard shell on. but I do have vague memories from holidays in France of people eating huge bowls of mussels - moules mariniere. Turns out this is just shellfish steamed in white wine and various other things depending on the recipe you read. I took mine (more or less) from the Conran cookbook . This is my fall back book - the one that has everything in it, a sort of modern version of the Good Housekeeping book that everybodies mother has tucked away somewhere.

Anyway, being a soup fan I doubled the quantities to make a sort of broth with an onion base, wine as the liquid or stock and the Tuatua as my main ingredient. I kept it simple without cream or butter.

- Put 500ml of half white wine (I had half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge), half water on to boil.
- Peel and chop two or three onions and add to the boiling wine. (the proper recipe uses shallots and onions)
- leave to boil away for eight minutes or so whilst scrubbing the shellfish clean under running water.

Obviously you have to be careful with collecting and storing shellfish, so as I am a complete novice you are on your own here - I googled it and made the mistake of telling Nicola and now a day later she is still watching me for signs of paralytic shellfish poisoning! (I feel fine by the way, thanks for asking)

- Bring the heat up, pour the shells into the boiling wine, pop the lid on and leave to cook stirring them around occasionally.
- They are cooked once most of the shells open up, less than 5 minutes probably. Some shells will not open - don't eat these ones.
- Pour everything through a sieve into a bowl or another pan to seperate the shellfish, put them in a serving bowl. Then carefully pour the broth back into the original pan keeping back the sand you'll see in the bottom.
- Bring the liquid back to the boil and check for seasoning, not that it will need any salt.
- Pour the liquid over the shellfish along with a couple of handfulls of chopped parsley. Our parsley has just flowered and so does not have many leaves so I used coriander leaves as well.

Serve with bread or a bowl of french fries.

I must say the broth was certainly the best part - like lemony sea water, the Tuatua were nice but still full of sand so if you know how to get round this please let me know. I'll ask at work on Monday but I do suspect that the sand is all part of the "fun" like eating a sandwich on the beach!

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