The Comfort that is a Bowl of Soup

There really is nothing like a bowl of soup to make you feel human again after a hard day, to warm you coming in from the cold, to comfort you when you are tired or down, to make a great satisfying lunch in the middle of a busy day.

And what could be simpler? Of course my all time favourite is What’s Left in the Vegetable Basket Soup. So although, to my mind, a good vegetable soup has to have a basis of onions, carrots and celery, the variations on this mean that no two soups are alike. Some have the hit of the last wrinkled chilli  and quite often something from the store of vegetables frozen from the glut in the summer but then there are the odd ingredients like the the last few tomatoes and half of a left-over courgette. Sometimes made chunky and sometimes whizzed to a creamy liquid. Every one a winner!

The spring soup I always look forward to is Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

This recipe comes from Eat Your Greens by Sophie Grigson, published in 1993. While the asparagus and the sorrel are still in season, this is a delight.  You can use asparagus trimmings for this recipe. This lovely light fresh soup and can be served hot or cold.

Ingredients Serves 2 – 3

175 g (6oz) chopped asparagus or asparagus trimmings, 40g (1 1/2oz) butter, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1 large handful of shredded sorrel, 1 tablespoon plain flour, 600ml (1 pint) water from cooking the asparagus or stock, salt and pepper, 50ml (2 fl oz) double cream, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chervil or chives.

Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic without browning. Add the sorrel and stir until it collapses to a mush. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a few seconds then a little ata time add the asparagus water or stock. Add the asparagus and season. Simmer for 20 mins.

Process or puree until smooth and if you want, sieve to remove any stringy fibres. Just before serving stir in the cream and chervil or chives.

And a brilliant and tasty soup for the summer – or anytime!

Soup au Pistou

Pistou, the Provençal cousin of pesto, is stirred into this summer vegetable soup just before serving. Pistou, made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The basics are the potato, courgettes and beans but this is one of those soups that can vary as much as you like in terms of the vegetables used. Broken spaghetti, rice or bread is sometimes added as well. Try it out and then make it your own.

This version was from an anonymous hand-written recipe and translated in Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen

Soup

1.5 litre water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 150g potatoes, 150g onions, 150g courgettes, 150g aubergines, 200g white haricot beans (a tin would be fine), 100g green beans, Salt & pepper

Pistou

4 crushed cloves garlic, 4 cups packed basil, 1 cup grated parmesan, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 plum tomato, cored

Method

Make the pistou: Process basil, parmesan, olive oil, salt, garlic, and tomato in a food processor until finely ground or in a pestle if you are feeling energetic. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables – chop the potatoes, courgettes, aubergine into cubes, roughly chop the onions and chop the green beans into 1 cm pieces. Fry the onions in the oil then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Add the water, all the fresh vegetables then season well. Cook for around 15 – 20 minutes. Add the white haricot beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the pistou sauce and stir gently then taste and season again.

Guess what I’ve got for lunch?

The Tyrany of Geometry

I was amused yesterday when I read India Knight’s article in the Sunday Times about the British and gardening. I do like her articles but this one particularly struck a chord and when India remarked ‘ I’m keener on higgledy-piggledy hollyhocks and courgette flowers than on perfect geometry, I laughed out loud.

I love gardening, my garden isn’t perfect and often stretches the balance between random and completely disorganised. But I love it I don’t want Little Miss Neat or Mr Tidy out there with me. I love the fact that the flowers bulge out of every corner in a riot of clashing colours and the raspberries are taking over the salad bed. What appear to be weeds are actually deliberate – sweet cicely, Jack-in-the-hedge and dandelions are all great in salads, although my neighbour thinks that is just an excuse.

However things are different on the allotment. Why? I don’t know but when growing veg on a larger scale I can’t seem to stop myself growing things in rows. The carrots, radishes and other roots are perfect in their lines and the sweetcorn marches in a set square. The runner beans supports are a marvel of symmetry.  A recent newcomer to the allotment plot remarked ‘gosh how organised you are, I wish I was like that’ – well I don’t. I don’t want to be a control freak.

That is until we have filled the gaps and still have plants to put in when my true untidy nature comes out and why I laughed at India’s comment, because one of the’allotment sayings’ that Terry and I have is ‘ we must rid ourselves of the tyrany of geometry’ as we stuff spare plants in any old corner. 

and I feel much better for it.

British Pie Week Day 2 – Festive Jalousie

A great all-rounder, this pie comes from Vegetarian Cooking & Vegetable Classics by Roz Denny and Christine Ingram. I love it and it comes with it’s own inbuilt creamy sauce.

Festive Jalousie

Ingredients

450g/ puff pastry, 450g Brussel sprouts, 16 whole chestnuts, 1 large red pepper, 1 large onion, 45ml sunflower oi,l 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon of water,

For the sauce

40g plain flour, 40g butter, 300ml milk, 30ml dry sherry, 75g cheddar cheese, good pinch of dried sage, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

Roll out the pastry to make 2 large rectangles (1 slightly larger than the other) roughly the size of your dish and about 6mm thick.

Blanch the brussels sprouts in 300ml of boiling water for 4 mins then drain, retaining the water and refresh them under cold running water.

Cut each chestnut in half. Lightly fry the red pepper and onion in the sunflower oil until transparent for about 5 mins. Set aside until later.

Make up the sauce by beating the flour, butter and milk together. Beat the sauce continuously and bring to the boil until it is thickened and smooth.  Then add the reserved sprout water cheese, sherry, sage and season to taste. Simmer for around 3 mins then add the parsley.

Fit the larger piece of pastry into your pie dish and layer the sprouts, chestnuts, peppers and onions on top. Pour over the sauce making sure it seeps through the vegetables. Brush the pastry edges with the egg mix and fit the second sheet of pastry on the top sealing the edges well. Crimp the edges. Glaze well with the egg mix.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees f/200 degrees C/ Gas mark 6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Vegetarian Cooking and Vegetable Classics

Packets of magic – never underestimate the power of seeds

Remember the story of Jack and the beanstalk where Jack foolishly sold his cow for 5 magic beans? He wasn’t undersold, his beans were the passage to a store of treasure in the sky. And it’s true – seeds are natures treasures.

I have just received a parcel of seeds for this season and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the postman dropped them off. Along with the store of seeds saved from last year this promises to be my food for the coming year, the provide the colour and scent of my garden, the taste of fresh sprouting seeds in my salads and a year’s fun sowing planting and harvesting. Who needs a gym when you have access to a garden or allotment a few packets of seeds and a few tools.

Seeds may be tiny, but they’re packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. A seed is life. It is a living food. Seeds also provide most cooking oils, many beverages and spices and some important food additives. In fact food from seeds, beans, nuts and grains (all seeds) forms the majority of human calories.

To get the most out of them remember the golden rule – raw food provides the highest sources of vitamins and cooked food helps the body extract the highest amounts of minerals so vary the way you eat them. Salads, raw seed and nut dips for vitamins and added to bread, biscuits or toasted for minerals.

Eating sprouted seeds adds another dimension of flavour and texture as well either raw in salads or cooked in stir fries.

Zero waste for a 100 years

As I rambled about in my last blog, I have been working on a project about food and food availability locally during WW1. As part of the research we looked through lots of cookery books and magazines of the time, just the job for me I loved it.

At the outset of the war the main issue was reducing waste and being frugal. Although they never expected the war to last for over four years they did expect a tight winter. Books, government posters and magazines promoted the reduction of waste and came up with some canny ideas. As the war continued these recipes became part of everyday life.

Once again Sam Bilton who runs the Repast Supper Club came to our rescue and translated some of these old recipes in a cooking demonstration. Here is one which will stand up to the needs of  Zero Waste Week. I make this all the time now.

Stock Made from Vegetable Trimmings

Mrs C. S. Peel The Daily Mail Cookery Book (1918)

Ingredients: The well washed peelings of potatoes, carrots, turnips; the green tops and outside leaves of celery, cauliflowers, cabbage, lettuces (if not decayed), apple or pear peelings and cores; parsley stalks.

Method: Add water, or the water in which macaroni, rice, haricots, potatoes etc have been boiled. Bring all to the boil then simmer for 30-40 mins. Strain and use as a base for thick soups, sauces etc.

Cooks Comments: This is a very economical way to make what is actually a tasty stock. I kept a largish bowl in the fridge in which I put various vegetable peelings and onion skins as described above over a few days until I had accumulated around 500g or so of trimmings (although an exact weight is not really an issue). When I was ready to make the stock I also saved the water I had used to cook some potatoes and topped it up to around 2.5 litres. If you decide to include onion skins they will give the stock a brown hue, which is something to consider if you are planning to use the stock in a white sauce or summery soup 

When the garden sends you broad beans…

Well the allotment is starting to take off on the picking front with broad beans, courgettes and runner beans and as usual I can’t keep up, so the broad beans are getting a bit big and I like them small and sweet.

The following recipe is not just something to do with an overload of broad beans, it is a reason for growing them! Thick, garlicky (is that a real word?) and herby.

Broad Bean Dip from The Taste of Health by edited by Jenny Rogers

This recipe calls for dried beans but I used fresh of course.

 

 

 

Ingredients

250g broad beans (removed from their jackets and peeled)

1 small onion

6 garlic cloves

A bunch of fresh thyme and a sprig of sage

2 bay leaves

110ml olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime

Salt & pepper

Method

If using dried beans soak them for a few hours or overnight otherwise just carry on with the recipe.

Put beans into a saucepan and cover with water.  Tie the 3 garlic cloves, the onion and the herbs loosely in a muslin bag and add to the pan. Simmer until the beans are tender then discard the muslin bag and water.

Put the beans into a processor with the olive oil, lemon/lime juice, salt & pepper and the the three remaining garlic cloves and process until they are a smooth paste.

yum yum

click here for the book

Totally Tomatoes!

It’s February, the time of year I start getting my tomato seeds on the go. As readers of my blog will know I am a bit obsessive about tomato growing and the hardest part of it is deciding which varieties I am going to go for each year.

Figures vary on how many varieties of tomato there are, but a conservative estimate is 7,500. So you can see my problem, I have only got room for about 10 varieties, that is if I want to grow anything else and I try to grow a mixture of outdoor and greenhouse, beef, plum, cherry,and of various colours, so the calculations are complicated. Add to that the fact that I have a shoe box full of tomato seeds and I to rotate them so that the seeds don’t get too old. 

The seeds I have come from a variety of sources, some bought from seeds suppliers, some I save myself or from friends’ saved seeds but mostly I get them from seed swaps. Over the years I have found some really interesting tomato varieties at seed swaps, at the Arundel seed swap we used to get a visitor whom we called Mr Tomato because he grew vast numbers and always brought along interesting varieties. It was from him that I first found Ivory Egg, Livingstone’s Favourite and Bloody Butcher. 

So what am I going for this year? On the large side I’m going for Cherokee Purple, a delicious sweet tomato great with a bit of olive oil and pepper and for small Piccolo, a sweet red variety I grew from seeds saved from a tomato that originally came from a ‘well known’ supermarket. One year the piccolo plant came through as an orange tomato that lasted on the plant until late November and stored in a basket until January. Replanted these seeds have stayed true and I call them Golden Piccolo, they will be in the greenhouse again this year as it is lovely to have fresh tomatoes in winter.

So where am I? Oh yes, the next is Jazz Fever, from Mr Tomato, a red fruit which I haven’t tried before. I always have to grow Black Cherry, my favourite large cherry, so sweet and juicy it is very hardy and prolific. Then Green Zebra and Ivory Egg both for the taste and colour variation. Then two from seed that I actually bought – Pomodoro Costoluto Fiorento from Franchi seeds and Crimson Crush from Dobies. The Crimson Crush I grew from plants last year, these are sold as blight resistant and whether that is true or not they were delicious and grew outdoor with no problems.

Then there is ‘Big Plum’ I don’t know if this is the right name but it certainly is a big plum and great for cooking and last but not least Sungold, whose little golden fruits brighten up a salad.

I think that’s eleven but who’s counting?

I’ll let you know how I get on and if I can restrict my self just to these. Meanwhile do visit your local seed swap and try new varieties. Here’s some options or look in your local press for one near you.

Seedy Sunday 

Garden Organic Seedy Sunday

 

Post halloween pumpkin feasts

However you spent halloween, at a fancy dress party, shepherding little ghosts and ghouls round on the trick or treat circuit or staying up to scare yourself to death on fright films, now that it is over let’s get down to the serious stuff – cooking with pumpkins.

I did a quick run through the books on my shelves and pumpkin recipes on line and came to the conclusion that there is no excuse for not using the flesh from the pumpkins used to decorate the porch for the ghostly evening. I try not to get on my high horse in these blogs but the waste of food in the form of pumpkins really upsets me.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 were only used for lanterns before being trashed and in the UK we are no better. The UK buys over one million pumpkins during October – around 90% of annual pumpkin sales. Once carved, the majority are thrown away with around 18,000 tonnes ending up in landfill according to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA).

Don’t give me the stories about nobody in the house liking pumpkin – would they be able to identify it in a lovely vegetable stew? or not knowing what to do – I found 20 pages of recipes from all over the world in my Ecosia search. Let’s aim to reduce that figure by next halloween.

So how about it?  Send me your favourite pumpkin recipes. The three best will win a copy of Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen and I’ll publish them in future blogs.

For more information on what you can do with scooped out pumpkins this Halloween, a selection of handy recipes can be found on the Love Food Hate Waste website 

One of my favourites is Pumpkin Bread from Flavoured Breads by Linda Collister

Ingredients

700g pumpkin or winter squash, 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (don’t be tempted to reduce this), 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar, 15g fresh yeast*, 350g strong white bread flour, extra flour for dusting, 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze.

* or use 7g sachet of dried yeast, mix with the flour before adding the pumpkin puree.

Method

Peel, remove seeds and dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes, you need 400g. Cook this without water, either roast or steam. Put in a processor with the oil and puree until smooth. Then allow to cool until just luke warm add the salt and sugar.

If you are using freash yeast mix in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of warm water. Mix the paste into the puree.

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the puree then mix in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn our onto a floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 5 – 10 mins (or 5mins in a mixer on a dough hook.

Shape into a round loaf and put on a baking sheet covered to rise until doubled – about 1 1/2 hours.

Press your thumb into the middle to make small hollow and brush with the egg glaze. Score into segments with a sharp knife then bake in a preheated oven at 200c, 400F or gas 6 for 30 mins, until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack if you can without eating it before it cools (very difficult). It makes a lovely bright orange loaf that looks and taste great.

 

 

Country Captain a Dish of Two Continents

I find it interesting how dishes make their way round the world starting off in one country only to be taken up as ‘a local dish’ in other. Take Kedgeree for instance, an dish originating in India, that became a quintessentially English dish and the iconic American Hot Dog, an import from Germany.

Whilst looking for recipes my book, Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen, I found a recipe for Chicken Country Captain  in a hand written recipe book written by a G. Watson, a fabulous find, crammed with recipes and marked through with smudges and grease marks, a book that had been used well, covering a period from 1940s to 1960s.

What an unusual name I thought, looked it up and found that the dish comes from the southern states of America where there are hundreds of different versions and states vie as to where it originated. However it didn’t stop there, it seems that the dish did originate in India finding its way to America where it has been adopted as a classic southern dish.

I found a recipe Country Captain Vegetables in the Indian 1947 edition of Indian Cookery by E. P.  Veerasawmy (also spelt Veeraswamy). Veeraswamy, in Regent Street, is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1926.

So here are both recipes in honour of National Curry Week, but which Nation?

Chicken Country Captain

This version is very simple, Anglicised and very tasty. The chilli powder gives it a kick so reduce it to your taste.

4 x chicken portions

100g ghee or vegetable oil

A large sliced onion

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground chilli

½ teaspoon salt

Method

Fry the onion in the ghee or oil depending on your preference until it is crispy and caramelised but not too dark. Remove it from the pan and place on a plate with some kitchen roll to drain. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary then add the turmeric and chilli, fry briefly then add the chicken. Cook on a medium heat to ensure it is cooked through thoroughly, turning it regularly. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken portions but cook for about 30 minutes then test. Cook for the first 15 minutes with a lid or cover on the pan then remove it to reduce any liquid. I have also tried this using a tablespoon of the Curry Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and it works really well. Serve with rice cooked your favourite way and with the onions on top.

Country Captain Vegetables

This is a good way of using up those left over vegetables or the odd collection of vegetables that seem to live in the veg box at the end of the week, any mixture will do.

 

 

 

2lb (1 kg) cooked cold vegetables chopped in chunks of around 2cm.

I large onion, finely sliced (or the equivalent in sliced spring onions)

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced lengthwise.

4 fresh or pickled chillies ( or less depending on the heat you want)

1 dessertspoon of curry powder

1 tablespoon of cooking oil or ghee

I tablespoon vinegar or tamarind water

Salt to taste

Method

Lightly fry the onions and  garlic. Toss the vegetables in a bowl with the curry powder, add the chillies and sprinkle the vinegar over and mix. Add the vegetables to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautee. Salt to taste. Serve with rice and fresh scraped or desicated coconut (optional). Again I have used my own curry powder but use whichever is your favourite.

Seasonal thoughts

One of the things I love about the allotment, and there are many, is that it really links me to the seasons.

I love the fact that in the spring that taste of the first asparagus reminds me that it is getting warmer even if it isn’t. But it isn’t just the foods, although moving from the summer glut of runner beans, courgettes tomatoes and salads to the first thoughts of roast roots and baked potatoes and warming comfort soups is permanently linked in my mind to the lighting of fires and walks in the frosty woods.

The summer brings the watering and weeding along with the fantastic glut of peas, beans, summer carrot and new potatoes and the long warm evenings (if we’re lucky) and the smells of cut grass and roses.

The preserving of the summer foods, making jams and chutneys, pickles and bottled fruit, leads nicely into fleeces and jumpers and the Community Apple Day and tidying the plot for winter.

So I’m just about to plant the broad bean seeds before it gets too cold and the planting of seeds makes me feel optimistic at any time, then I’ll eat the squashes and celeriac that are just coming ready with stewed apple and custard to follow. And it all feels so right.

So even though the winter evenings aren’t far away, a glass of mulled wine makes up for digging the frosty ground for the carrots and parsnips and there are always the plans for next years crops when Christmas is over.