Category Archives: Soup

Leek and butter bean soup with crispy kale and bacon.

This is a lovely soup. What I also love about it is that you can leave the bacon off and it instantly becomes veggie/vegan. It’s stuffed full of probiotic-friendly leeks. It’s from the BBC Good Food magazine.

You need

4 tsp olive oil

500g leeks sliced

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 x 400g cans butter beans

500ml vegetable stock (or chicken if you like)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

half a small packet of flat leaf parsley

3 rashers of streaky bacon

40g chopped kale, stems removed

25g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

You do

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan, add the leeks, thyme and seasoning and  cover and cook over a low heat for 15 mins until soft, adding a splash of water if need be – don’t let the leeks stick.

Add the butter beans with the liquid from the cans, the stock and mustard. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 mins until hot. Blend with a stick blender in the pan (or put in a blender). Stir through parsley, check seasoning.

Put bacon in a large frying pan, medium heat. Cook until crispy, set aside to cool. Add the remaining 1 tsp oil to the pan and tip in the kale and hazelnuts. Cook for a few minutes, stirring under the kale is wilted and crisping at the edge and the nuts toasted. Cut the bacon into small pieces and stir into the kale/nuts.

Reheat the soup, adding a bit of water if too thick (or have both operations going on at once) and sprinkle the bacon/nuts/kale on top.

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Posh “Pot Noodle”

This isn’t of course, anything like pot noodle. I’m not even sure why I call it that other than, when there are left overs, I put it in a glass Weck jar/pot and it’s so easy to reheat and before you know it you have something ludicrously tasty and nutritious to eat.

My children love this. The original recipe calls for chilli (1 red, sliced), salad onions and pak choi. You can still add the former at the same time you add the star anise, if you wish, and the latter when I add the ‘veg’.

It’s wonderfully fragrant, really amazing smelling, the kind of soupy meal that feels like it’s doing good just by raising a bowl of it to your nose and sniffing it in. If you’re going out for a family day out/walk (or even, you know, by yourself) it’s great to make in advance, stick in the fridge, and within minutes of coming home you can have something to eat.

Its original name is Fragrant Chicken Hot Pot and it’s adapted from a Waitrose magazine recipe from last year.

Serves 4

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil

4-6 free range chicken thigh fillets (or still on the bone see note later) cut into chunks

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 star anise

1 tablespoon of light brown muscovado sugar

500ml chicken stock

1 tablespoon of fish sauce

Some green veg: spinach or French beans, whatever you like: a big handful.

Two nests of Vermicelli or other noodles (or more than that if you want a more noodley experience)

This is what you do:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then fry the chicken for about 10 minutes until browned.

If using whole thighs on the bone (see my note later) do this for the same amount of time but to make sure the chicken is cooked simmer the actual soup for longer than the ten minutes recommended below.

Now stir in the garlic, star anise (and chilli if using). Fry for a couple of minutes, then add the sugar and stir around for a minute or so until melted.

Now add the stock and fish sauce, cover the pan and simmer for ten minutes – fifteen if you’re using chicken thighs on the bone.

Whilst this is simmering, prepare the noodles according to your instructions. The vermicelli nests I use just have to sit in boiling water for five minutes, so are simplicity itself.

Now add any veg you are using and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, depending on what you are using. Taste and add more seasoning if needed (I never need to). Serve! It’s delicious. Any left overs can be stored in the fridge for a day or two and just reheated well making for a really lovely, quick, meal.

A note about the chicken. Ready filleted chicken thighs make this more expensive, but easier. I tend to use thighs on the bone with the skin on. You could either skin and fillet them before cooking or, what I do, is just take the skin off (otherwise it makes the dish way too fatty) and cook the thighs on the bone. I think it also adds to the flavour. Then when cooked, I take the chicken out of the stock (whilst the veg are cooking, say) and take off the meat whilst trying to not scald my fingers. This is also a good way to make sure the chicken is cooked as chicken thighs vary in size and you need to be sensible.

Because I make this to last over two meals, I can get away with just taking off the outer meat to get a meal ‘for now’ and then when the meat has cooled down, I strip it all off the bone, add it to the broth and then store ready to go, like that, in the fridge.

Ribollita

Ribollita means ‘reboiled’. That’s not an attractive title is it? But the name belies just how wonderful this soup is: incredibly tasty, healthy, sustaining, satisfying. I urge you to try it. It’s what you’d call ‘hearty peasant food’ but to us, it’s dinner, or lunch. It’s a great way to use up old, hearty bread, a bit past its best.

We do use this to use up the older sourdough and it makes a large vat. I think it’d easily serve six.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

20g butter

1 red onion, slice finely

4 stalks of celery, chopped and de-‘stringed’ (don’t worry if you can’t be bothered to do this but we do)

3 chopped carrots

500g Swiss chard or cavolo nero. What you need to do here, with your hands, is separate out the stems and cut them into half a fingers length if they’re big, strip the leaves off and put to one side so you end up with two piles: the leaves and the stems. I can just imagine my nonna doing this whilst chatting to her women friends, putting the world to right

4 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped. I HATE garlic crushers

A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped up small

400g can of good, plum peeled tomatoes.

400g borlotti beans

some old sourdough/hearty bread (I leave this out sometimes but it’s a great way of using up old bread, do NOT be tempted to put in crap white supermarket sliced for goodness sake)

So you heat the butter up in the saucepan with the oil, until the butter has just melted. If you add the veg to really hot oil, it will brown and you don’t want that, you want to soften it. Add the onion, celery and carrots and the chard stalks and give it about 20 mins. Cover it, don’t cover it, it doesn’t really matter. Then add the garlic, and parsley and cook for another five mins. Now stir in the tomatoes, there shouldn’t be much juice if these are quality tomatoes but add whatever there is. Break them up a bit and cook for about 10 mins. Now add the beans and pour enough water to cover the whole thing. Simmer for half an hour, 40 mins. Then add the leaves of the chard or cavolo nero and cook for another ten or so minutes. Add a bit more water if it looks too thick but I never have had to.

Season, add the bread and serve drizzled with olive oil if you want, but I never do.

Chorizo and red lentil soup, just what you need for a cold winter’s day

Beautiful, delicious, simple.

This soup recipe is adapted from one in the excellent Donna Hay’s Fresh, Fast, Simple. It doesn’t look like much and the first time I made it I thought “oh dear” when I saw it but then I tasted it and belies its meagre ingredients. I eat it with a poached egg in it, which I poach separately and pop into the soup just before serving, just for a little extra protein sustenance.

  1. 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  2. One finely chopped onion
  3. Some chorizo, up to you how much, I use about so much (6″ of a small circumference chorizo) and I slice it and then half the slices so you end up with half moons.
  4. A few sprigs of thyme leaves
  5. 150g red lentils
  6. 1.25L of chicken of vegetable stock, stock cubes are fine. I use Kallo Organic
  7. Sea salt and pepper

Heat  the oil in the saucepan and add the onion and chorizo. Fry gently until the onion is soft. Now add the thyme (I add the whole stalk and the leaves come off and then I fish out the stalks at the end, do pick off the leaves if you want to), lentils and stock. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

That’s it. The lentils should have started to break down. Taste it and see if it needs salt and pepper, it may do depending on how salty your stock was.

This serves about four people.

With poached egg in. It sounds weird but I promise it works. Unless of course you don’t like eggs.

Minestrone

Minestrone with broken up spaghetti and small bits of ‘pastina’

It’s mid June as I write this. In Italy, where my mother is from, it’s nearly 30C. Here, in Suffolk, it’s 12C.

And everybody’s complaining about it.

So today, I decided to make some minestrone. Minestrone is peasant food. You’d make it out of the bits ‘n’ bobs of vegetables you had left over. As such, there are many different versions. This is the beauty of it really, which is that you can add more or less whatever veg you have. Use bits of broken pasta that you can’t use for anything else, etc.

My mother makes an amazing minestrone, but she makes it using frozen veg. Which is quite inspired really when you consider that she lives in central London now, not on the edge of a vegetable patch. And the frozen veg is really fresh and delicious. I used to hate her minestrone (sorry Mamma, although the likelihood of you reading this is as high as the Vatican ever admitting it is wrong about anything) and the one and only time I was sent to bed without my dinner was when I, one evening, refused to eat it. I thought – and still think – this was quite harsh considering that I used to eat almost everything else. Including chickens’ feet and chickens’ stomach and tripe and brains. I mean, come on! Give me a break.

Anyway, I love it now and this is how I make it. I’d love to say this is a recipe passed down from my Nonna, but nope, I got it from Waitrose.

2tbsp olive oil
140g pancetta, cut up; or cut up bits of bacon (entirely optional, but makes it nice)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 sticks of celery, you guessed it, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced or chopped, go crazy
1 medium potato, peeled and guess what? diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 large sprig of basil
Parmesan rind (save them for this)
salt and pepper (but not salt if you use the parmesan rind)
410g borlotti beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
50g your chosen pasta, nothing too thick, I love broken up spaghetti

You can prepare each veg as you go along.

Put the oil in a large saucepan and then add the pancetta/bacon. Once it’s beginning to colour, add the onion and cook gently until soft. Fry until soft.

Add the carrot, then the celery, then the garlic, then the potato, then the courgette. At each stage add the veg and let it cook for a minute or two.

Give the courgettes a couple of minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes. Fill the now empty tin with water, twice, and add to the minestrone. Now add the basil (if you don’t have it, don’t stress). Add parmesan rind and some pepper. If you don’t have the parmesan rind then add salt too.

Bring to boil, lower to simmer. With lid off, simmer very gently for two hours. You can eat it after one hour but it’s so much nicer after two hours. Twenty mins before the end, add the beans if you want to use them (I’m not a mad fan of the beans, and prefer it without).

If you’re planning on eating the whole lot in one go, also put the pasta in now, otherwise you get a better result cooking the pasta separately and adding it when you eat the minestrone.

That’s it. I find this really therapeutic to make and deliciously wholesome to eat.

Hot and Sour Soup (or a soup for a cold)

I got this recipe a year or so ago from Delicious magazine. It’s become a staple in our house. As a busy person I appreciate that it’s quick and nourishing. As a lazy person I appreciate that it’s quick and nourishing and as a mother of a toddler who likes to wrap herself around my legs, I appreciate that even though it’s quick, it can be made in stages.

The joy is further deepened because you can adapt it according to:

How much you want to blow your sinuses to Kingdom come (you increase the heat).
Whether you are low carbing or not (if not you can add noodles).
How many people you are feeding. You can up the broth part by adding more stock, or just beef it up by adding more prawns or mushrooms or summat. It’s versatile.

Here is the recipe:

Broth:

1 litre of stock, vegetable or chicken, cube fine
2 large chillis, halved (deseed them if you want to, I like the extra heat, also I’m lazy, have I mentioned, so I keep the seeds in, also less chance of rubbing your eyes and burning them OUT OF YOUR HEAD if you don’t de-seed them. Lisa I’m talking about you honey)
2 kaffir lime leaves, scrunched up and chucked in
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised(I use two teaspoons from a jar, cheaper too)
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon of caster sugar

T’other ingredients:

125g oriental looking mushrooms
250g large raw prawns (it won’t be the end of the world if they’re ready cooked)
1 pak choi (I now use spinach, so much easier to eat and deal with)

200g noodles, leave out if you’re low carbing.

A hanky or tissue.

First you make the broth. Put all of the first lot of ingredients in a pan, cover and simmer. The recipe says to do it for four  minutes and then sieve and then you chuck out the chillis and what not. If you want the broth hotter, simmer for longer and/or keep the ingredients in for longer before sieving.

Strain the broth into another big pan.

(If you want, you can leave it now to cool down and either put it in the fridge for later/another day or freeze it.)

Add the other ingredients. If you’re using frozen prawns give them five minutes cooking time, then add the pak choi etc. Cook noodles according to packet instructions, you should be able to just add them in for the last two minutes if they’re regular Chinese noodles.

Slurp. Use the hanky to wipe your nose.

And yes Pete, I DID forget to put the noodles in this lunchtime!

Spicy butternut squash and coconut soup: soup for a cold day or for when you have a cold.

I’m in the mood for soup. I’ve got a cold. I’m cold. I’m fairly miserable, which my partner tells me is pretty standard nowadays (“you’re disproportionately miserable” he whispers to me in my ear).

Soup can only help can’t it? Plus it’s vegetables.

I came across this recipe last year. I can’t remember where from but when I feel better I will attempt to find out because it makes me REALLY CROSS when people don’t credit recipes and say “oh here is my recipe for XYZ”. I know recipes are all nicked from somewhere anyway, but as a professional writer, I care very much about the value of words. If you know where something comes from, sodding credit it you teef.

So this isn’t my recipe although I’ve adapted it to suit my own selfish means. I’ve adapted it in a very small way, because I’m just not that clever to do a handbrake turn with a recipe and completely reinvent it.

This is what you need:

A butternut squash, it really doesn’t matter what the size is since they’re all bred nowadays to be ‘supermarket size’ anyway. Peel it, which is a bastard job, and cut it into chunks. I cut it into chunks and then peel it, actually.
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of garam masala
1-2 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes(one gives it a nice warmth, two a kick, I’ve not tried more than that. The original recipe calls for three dried whole chillies which you cook with the squash, then take out two of them before the blending stage. I used dried cos we always have in)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
600ml chicken stock – made with a cube, for goodness sake. I’m all for chicken broth made from proper dead chickens when you’re using it as the actual stuff you’re eating, for pastina in brodo for instance but when you’re chucking it into a soup, a cube is just fine. I use Kallo organic cos it makes me feel better.
400ml coconut milk (the original said 200ml, but all the coconut  milk I find comes in 400ml tins and if you use 200ml you end up wasting the other 200ml. I think this is a shame, so I use the whole tin, it makes for a slightly creamier soup, but since when was that a bad idea? The point is, if you have a use for the other 200ml of coconut milk, use less and tell me what that use is).
Juice of one lime (not essential, so don’t panic if you don’t have it, but it adds a nice taste and has useful vitamin C).

Preheat oven to 200C.

Take 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, put in a small receptacle and into that put your spices and chilli. Mix around and then drizzle over the squash. Put it in the oven for 20mins. After 20 mins scatter over the garlic and cook for another 10 mins, after which the squash should be lovely and squashy and soft, if not give it a bit more.

Whilst that is doing, use the other two tablespoons of oil to soften the onion. Do it with the lid on. You want lovely transparent onion, all soft and relaxed, not mean and burned and angry.

Scrape the squash and all the spicy bits into a blender. Add the onion. Pour in a bit of the chicken stock so that it’s easier to blend the whole lot up. Blend it up. Brr brr brrr so that the whole lot is thick and velvety and GOOD.

Put into a pan, add the rest of the stock and the coconut milk. Heat it up, add lime juice, season if you want to (I never do, stock cubes have so much sodding seasoning already) eat it and think of nice autumn things and what you want for Christmas.

This just isn’t the most interesting picture, I mean, it could be custard. But I forgot to take a pic at any other, more photogenic point in making it. What would have been ideal is a picture of someone in knitted fingerless gloves, nursing a mug of this and wearing slouchy socks, kinda Toast-catalogue styley. Although nursing these days means a different thing to me, so I mean: holding the mug, not breastfeeding it.