Carrot and ginger soup

Carrot and ginger soupIt has been so cold this weekend that soup seemed the best option for a warming lunch, and I wanted something quick and not too heavy as we were going out to dinner. Waitrose have started selling very good value bags of  ‘not quite perfect’ carrots – though they look pretty immaculate to me – so I thought I’d make carrot soup. I used to have it often, but then got bored, and haven’t made it for a while. I fancied a fresh-tasting, really carroty soup with a bit of gingery heat. Makes enough for 3-4.

1 dstsp oil
½ onion
1 clove garlic
a walnut size piece of fresh ginger
600g carrots
750g vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Handful of parsley or coriander leaves
Greek yoghurt to serve if wished

Chop the onion finely. Top and tail the carrots, peel if necessary and chop into 2cm chunks. Heat the oil (I used groundnut but any neutral oil will be fine) in a large saucepan and fry the onion gently until soft. Meanwhile, crush or finely chop the garlic and peel and grate the ginger. When the onion has softened add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two, stirring so it doesn’t stick. Heat the vegetable stock – I made it using Marigold vegetable bouillon.

Add the carrots, stir them about and then pour on the hot stock. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots are really tender. Blend in a liquidiser or with a stick blender and season with salt and pepper. Chop the coriander leaves or parsley and serve the soup with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt and a generous sprinkle of herbs.

As a variation you could add some butternut squash (raw or, even better, left-over roasted squash) for a more velvety soup, or add a small fresh red chilli at the start to make it punchier. You could also top it with the spiced onions from this recipe for lentil and squash soup, or with a swirl of olive oil mixed with the finely-chopped herbs – both of which are dairy-free. This soup won’t win any awards, but it delivered some quick, cheap, carroty warmth on a cold day.

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Minestrone

Minestrone

Easy supper menu

Minestrone
Bread and cheese
Panna cotta or affogato
Clementines

 

My friends Sue and Steve have been to stay and I was looking for an easy and sustaining dish for an early supper before they headed off to the ferry back to France. I had some lovely Cavolo Nero from the People’s Supermarket, pancetta, carrots and celery in the fridge, and tins of cannellini beans and tomatoes in the cupboard, so a big pan of minestrone seemed like the answer.

I served this hearty soup with sourdough toast and some blue cheese and Rond du Cher goat’s cheese. Afterwards we ate clementines, making the room smell of Christmas. The minestrone was really substantial, so we didn’t have room for anything more than fruit – apples or pears served with the cheese (especially if one was serving a hard cheese) would have been a good alternative. If you wanted to serve something sweet, panna cotta or ice cream would be suitably Italian options and, if eating this at lunch time, an affogato would be the perfect finish (I find drinking coffee in the evening keeps me awake, alas).

Nigella Lawson suggests Minestrone followed by Baked Sauternes Custard as a weekend lunch menu in How to Eat, but to my mind the custard, however delicious, seems a bit too delicate after the rustic heft of the soup. One of the things I really like about that cookbook, though, is the way it puts recipes together as menus, which have given me lots of ideas about how to combine courses – even though I’ve cooked relatively few of the menus exactly as written. So I thought I would follow Nigella’s lead and try to suggest menus – whether for full dinner or easy weeknight supper – when I post recipes.

This minestrone started with the Minestrone alla Milanese  in Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy, which I prefer to Nigella’s recipe as it uses rice rather than pasta, though the recipes are otherwise similar. However, I have used different vegetables and cooked the soup for much less time than the 2-2½ hours they suggest. Both Roden and Lawson use potatoes and courgettes in the soup. Following Roden, I added basil at the end, but it didn’t seem quite right in such a wintry dish, so I might omit it next time – though I think it essential to a more summery minestrone. The result was a heartwarming winter soup, which sent my friends on their way ready to face the rigours of their journey. Serves 4-6.

150g pancetta, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 can Italian plum tomatoes
1 can cannelloni beans
125g french beans
125g frozen peas
100g arborio rice
150-200g cavolo nero (or other cabbage)
Small bunch of basil, cut in strips (optional)
Freshly grated parmesan to serve

Heat the pancetta in a large pan until the fat starts to melt, then add the chopped onion and fry until it softens and starts to colour. Add the finely chopped parsley and garlic and stir until the smell rises from the pan. Add the celery, carrots and the tin of tomatoes, and two cans full of water. Cover the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender. (If you want to make the soup using dried beans, soak them overnight beforehand, rinse, then add with the carrots, and simmer for around 2 hours or until the beans are tender).

Top and tail the french beans and cut into 2cm lengths. Drain the can of beans and add to the pan with the french beans and frozen peas. Add more water if the soup has become too thick, and simmer for another 10 minutes. I prepared the soup ahead to this point, then reheated it to simmering point before continuing half an hour before we wanted to eat the next day.

MinestroneAdd the rice and simmer for 10 minutes. Shred the cavolo nero, add it to the pan and cook for a further 10-15 minutes (if using white or Savoy cabbage you might need to add it at the same time as the rice to ensure it is tender). Scatter over the basil. Put some freshly grated parmesan on the table for people to help themselves.

Pastenak and Cress Cream

Pastenak and Cress Soup

Here is the parsnip soup recipe I mentioned in my recent post on my top six winter soups. It is a soothing yet sophisticated soup with a pure parsnip taste and the lovely contrasting freshness and slight heat of mustard and cress. It was perfect for a winter lunch today with bread and cheese and clementines (or russet apples would be good) afterwards, but is equally at home served in small portions as starter for a winter feast. I found it in Elizabeth David’s Christmas (what, you mean you haven’t bought it yet? See this post if you’re new to the blog), and it has starred on several Christmas Eve menus. It is supposed to be served with a little bowl of croutons fried in clarified butter alongside, but I have to confess that I have never got round to doing this – I tell myself that it is because fried croutons are bad for me, but it’s probably more like laziness. This quantity serves four amply for lunch, or six as a starter.

500g small parsnips (approx 6)
600 ml thin, clear chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
1 level tsp rice flour, potato flour or arrowroot
1 punnet mustard and cress
60-90ml cream

Elizabeth David emphasises that you need young parsnips to make this soup. Scrub the parsnips. Cut out the stem at the top, trim the root and peel off any tough or unappetising-looking skin. You can do this after boiling the parsnips, and it may not be necessary at all if your parsnips are in good nick. I tend to cut them in half lengthwise, so that they cook a little more quickly, but the original recipe cooks them whole.

Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until soft – 15 minutes if you have halved them, 25 minutes if not. Allow to cool a little (and you can rub off the skins at this stage if you wish – providing you have asbestos hands). Purée the parsnips in the blender (or mouli) with 300ml of the cooking water. I find it easier to get a smooth purée this way, rather than blending the parsnips on their own and then adding the cooking water afterwards as recommended in the original recipe.

Put back into a clean pan, add the stock and season with salt (I used 1 tsp, but the recipe suggests 2-3 tsp) and white pepper if you like (I do). Mix the rice flour or other thickener in a small bowl with a ladleful of soup, then stir this back into the pan and cook gently until it has slightly thickened the soup to the consistency of pouring cream and the soup is hot. Cut off the tops of the mustard and cress with scissors, chop and add to the soup with the cream.

This was originally a French recipe and Elizabeth David explains the derivation of the word pastenak – it is the medieval word for parsnips, a corruption of their Latin name pastinaca.

Top six soups to banish the winter cold

That headline probably ought to be ‘Top six soups to banish a winter cold’ because the arrival of a cold a few days ago, apparently out of the blue, is what sent me scurrying for my favourite comforting soup recipes. Hot, liquid comfort food – ideally with lots of garlic and onions – is what I crave at the moment.

Whether you, too, are suffering a cold, or just want a soup to warm you when you get back from work or a winter walk, here are six soups which should cheer you up. They are all vegetable soups and all but one are vegetarian – from French country onion soup to roasted squash and tomato soup (below).

image

1) My fail-safe anti-cold soup is Elizabeth David’s Tourin Bordelais, a country recipe for a pale onion soup, served with slices of sourdough rubbed with garlic. I much prefer it to traditional French Onion Soup, and have found it cuts through the most miserable of colds. It is from French Provincial Cooking – still my desert island cookbook, as it is such a pleasure to read, as well as to cook from.

3 large mild onions
1 tbsp each butter and oil
2 egg yolks to thicken, if desired
A few drops wine vinegar

Slice the onions as finely as you can. Heat the butter and oil (Elizabeth David uses pork dripping, but I rarely have any) in a heavy saucepan, and cook the onions slowly, stirring until they start to soften. Season with salt, cover the pan and cook very gently for 30 minutes. The onions should be very soft but still a creamy yellow colour – you don’t want to brown them.

Pour over a litre of cold water, bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. If you wish to thicken (I don’t always), beat the 2 egg yolks in a bowl with a few drops of vinegar and a ladleful of hot soup. Return this mixture to the pan and stir until very hot, but NOT boiling (or the eggs will curdle).

The original recipe says to serve by putting slices of French bread baked in the oven into each soup plate and pouring the soup over. I think using toasted sourdough, which has been rubbed on both sides with a raw clove of garlic, is even better, especially if you have a cold. Serves 4-6.

2) A close second is this Lentil and Squash soup, based on Nigel Slater’s Dal and Pumpkin soup and probably the recipe I have cooked most often from his first Kitchen Diaries (my favourite of all his cookbooks – though that is a hard-fought title).

3) Today I opted for Celeriac Soup: creamy, wholesome and easy to make.

Celeriac soup

1 leek
1 onion
300g celeriac
1 or 2 cloves garlic
20g butter
500ml vegetable stock
3 tbsps single cream to garnish (optional)

Serves 3, although you could thin with extra stock to make enough for 4 more elegant portions. Slice the leek, and dice the onion. Peel the celeriac, and cut into 1 cm dice. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and add the leek, onion and celeriac. Crush or finely chop the garlic and add to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, stirring from time to time, for about 10 minutes until the veg are beginning to soften.

Celeriac soup

Heat the stock and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the celeriac is really tender. Blend using a stick blender or liquidiser, check seasoning and drizzle a spoonful of single cream on each serving. You could also add chopped parsley or all manner of tasty, crispy toppings, but such sophistication can seem a step too far when you’ve got a cold – unless you’re lucky enough to have someone to cook soup for you, of course!

4) Parsnip is one of my favourite vegetables, and over the years I have made a number of different parsnip soups (you can, for example, pretty much substitute parsnip for celeriac in the recipe above). The absolute best, though, is Pastenak and cress cream from Elizabeth David’s Christmas. As I have said before, this book really is a treasure trove of unusual and delicious Christmas recipes. Pastenak and cress cream has become a fixture on our Christmas menus, but deserves to be cooked far more than once a year. Pastenak is the Medieval English word for parsnip, a corruption of the Latin name pastinaca. I particularly love the cress garnish – people seem to have forgotten about mustard and cress in their enthusiasm for putting coriander and flat-leaf parsley on everything, but mustard and cress adds a welcome note of freshness and heat here.

5) This is a recent entrant into my list of favourite soups: Roast squash and tomato soup (pictured, before blending, at the top of this post), originally a Sophie Grigson recipe, which I discovered through the excellent thesinglegourmetandtraveller blog. I think the addition of chilli flakes is definitely a good thing and I also popped about 4 unpeeled garlic cloves into the roasting tin, squeezing the roasted garlic out of the papery cases when I made the soup – as I said above, colds always make me want to eat garlic! The roasting really brings out the flavours and is definitely worth the trouble, especially as you could put the pan of vegetables into the oven ahead of time while you’re roasting something else. This is now my favourite squash soup.

6) Finally, Rowley Leigh’s Chickpea and Spinach soup is a hearty, substantial meal in a dish. It does require advance planning as you need to soak the chickpeas overnight. Although I suppose you could make it with tinned chickpeas, I don’t think you’d get the same texture and flavour as the original. The recipe includes lardons, but if you wanted to make it vegetarian you could omit these, and perhaps add a parmesan rind with the tomatoes to boost the umami flavour.

I hope one of these fits the bill for you too and would be interested to hear what other people find comforting to eat when they have a cold.

Chickpea and Spinach Soup

Chickpea and spinach soup

Rowley Leigh’s recipe from the FT, made by Marlene – really warming and satisfying. For 6

200g chickpeas
4 cloves garlic
1 chilli
1 onion
2 tbsps olive oil
100g lardons or pancetta (cd use smoked bacon), cut in small cubes
2 tomatoes or 100g tinned tomatoes, skinned & chopped
1/2 tsp pimenton picante or cayenne
a generous pinch saffron (if you have it)
750ml chicken stock
400g spinach

1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of cold water (or put in pan of cold water, bring to the boil and leave to stand for 45 minutes). Drain them, cover with fresh cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim the surface and then add the chilli and three garlic cloves. Simmer gently, not allowing the chickpeas to dry up, for at least two hours or until perfectly tender. Allow to cool in their own liquor.

2. Peel and chop the onion quite finely and stew in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with the last clove of garlic, chopped, and the lardons/pancetta. After 10 minutes, but without letting this mixture brown, add the tomato and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the saffron and pimento/cayenne. Now add the chickpeas, squeezing the pulp out of the garlic, together with its liquor and the chicken stock. Bring this to a simmer and season with a little coarse salt.

3. Pick the stalks from the spinach and wash the leaves in several changes of water. Heat a large pan with a film of olive oil and sear the spinach until it wilts. Drain, squeeze out any excess water, turn out on a board and chop it quite finely before adding to the soup. Check the soup for seasoning and serve with grilled or fried bread.

You could try making without the lardons and using veg stock and parmesan rind to make a vegetarian version. For more warming soups see Top six soups to banish the winter cold.

Lentil and squash soup

Adapted from Nigel Slater, Kitchen Diaries. Can be made with pumpkin, sweet potato or carrots instead of squash. Very satisfying and comforting winter soup.

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
ginger – a walnut sized knob
200g red lentils
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground chilli
250g butternut squash, peeled and chopped (c. 2 cm cubes)
coriander – a small bunch, roughly chopped

Peel and roughly chop onion. Peel and crush the garlic. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shreds and put all three into a good-sized saucepan with the lentils and 1.5 litres of water (or chicken stock if you have any and aren’t catering for vegetarians). Bring to the boil, and boil for 5 mins, then turn down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the turmeric and chilli, season, add the chopped squash and leave to simmer, covered, for 20 mins.

Check that the squash (or whatever veg you’ve used) is soft, then blend (I use a stick blender in the pan). Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and serve. Nice with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt – and good bread.

Nigel Slater serves with spiced onions: 2 onions sliced thinly and cooked slowly in a frying pan with 2 tbsp oil, 2 chillis (take out seeds and slice finely, or use chilli flakes) and 2 cloves of garlic (finely sliced) until soft and brown. This is good, especially when you have a cold, but I rarely do it. Original recipe uses pumpkin, and cooks it separately.