VERSATILE SPINACH WITH CHILLI PESTO NEW POTATOES

We have just discovered chilli pesto – entirely by accident. Thought we had picked up a jar of the usual red pesto but it turned out to be the chilli variety and it’s rather nice (we got Aldi”s version). I have combined new potatoes and spinach before but thought I would try adding the pesto as well. Give it a whirl and try serving with grilled fish or meat. It’s quick, dead easy and there’s no need for a complicated sauce because the pesto and spinach potatoes do the job for you.

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Served with grilled salmon and steamed carrots and mange tout. Easy!

Here’s what you do. I have given a guide to quantities but you decide depending on how many mouths you are feeding:-

  • New potatoes – enough for all those mouths. They can be kept whole if small enough or cut to uniformly sized chunks
  • Baby spinach, washed. A handful for each person (wash your hands first please). It may look a lot but it does reduce down
  • Chilli pesto – a good heaped teaspoonful per person
  • Butter – as much or as little as you like (but please have some)
  • Black pepper

Boil the new potatoes until tender and while that is going on, chop the spinach. When cooked, drain the potatoes (keep them in the pan, don’t drain using a colander). Don’t worry about draining every last drop of water. Quickly throw in the spinach and butter, put the lid on and leave to steam for a minute or so (that’s why it is not critical to drain every last drop of water). Add the pesto and mix the whole lot so the potatoes are coated. You can do this over a very low light but not for long. Add black pepper if you wish and serve.

OTHER STUFF TO DO WITH SPINACH

A bag of washed baby spinach is a handy  thing to have around. We usually have one on the go in the fridge because it’s so versatile. I am however thinking of suing the makers of Popeye because I have eaten quite a bit of the stuff but, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, my arms are still like Olive Oyl’s. Spinach is rich in iron so if you start eating it regularly you can give up the Mackesons stout. Did you know, up until the 1980’s, pregnant and new mothers in the UK were advised to drink stout to boost their iron levels? I remember my mum drinking it after my baby brother was born. That may have been because of the shock though.

Anyway, here are a few things you can do with spinach (baby spinach is best):-

  • As a vegetable in its own right. Frankly, not my favourite way of consuming spinach but can be livened up with butter, lemon juice and/or garlic or cream and nutmeg.
  • Chop and add it to casseroles (or even gravy!). Can’t really taste it so it’s a good way of getting fresh vegetables into reluctant children or carnivores.
  • Finely chop it and add to a cheese sauce to make posh looking pasta dishes
  • Add to homemade tomato sauce and make more pasta dishes
  • Use as a salad leaf
  • Put in your sandwiches, e.g tuna mayonnaise, coronation chicken (not Marmite or jam, that would be weird)

Colin

FALL APART TENDER ROAST BEEF – HOW TO CHEAT!

This is another one for people who are lazy, less than competent or lacking confidence in the kitchen – or all three. If you haven’t gathered by now, this is the general theme of my cooking posts. Have you ever tried to roast a joint of beef traditionally only for it to turn out a bit dry and less than tender? One of the reasons may not be your lack of cooking skills but rather the absence of fat from your chosen joint. The only time I have really successfully roasted a joint of beef using the tradition method is when I have had a rib joint with thick veins of fat running through it. The fat provides the moisture and keeps the meat tender. However in this low fat era, that may not suit everyone. Or is fat good for you nowadays, now that sugar is deemed to be the ultimate evil? I’m not sure. I can’t keep up with the experts. Everything in moderation, I say.

So, when you see that tempting ultra-lean topside joint of beef sitting on the butcher’s or supermarket meat counter calling out to your anti-fat sensibilities, how would you cook it? Well, why not try “pot roasting” it? That way you get lovely tender meat, ready made gravy and half of your vegetables in one fell swoop! Here’s how:-

Pot roast

  • Get your joint out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start cooking to let it come to room temperature.
  • Season the joint with salt and pepper.
  • In a hob- and ovenproof casserole dish heat a small amount of oil of your choosing (olive, rapeseed, sunflower, Castrol GTX, whatever). When the oil is hot, pop the joint in and brown on all sides, including the ends. Ideally, you need some substantial weapons with which to manoeuvre and turn the joint. Don’t use your fingers, you will burn them. You would never catch me doing anything so stupid(!).
  • Turn off the heat and add warm/hot beef stock or a combination of stock and red wine until the level of liquid comes at least halfway up the joint (you can be quite generous with the wine if you wish!).
  • Chuck in some big chunks of carrot. You choose how many – think about how many people you are going to feed. No namby pamby thin slices, this is going in the oven for a quite a while so you don’t want them to disintegrate.
  • Put on the casserole’s tight fitting lid and put in the oven, pre-heated to 140/150C (fan). I guess 160-ish C for a conventional oven. Did I mention the casserole dish needs a tight fitting lid? If in doubt, see Tips and Variations below.
  • The last joint I pot roasted was about 1kg and I left it in the oven for between 2 to 2.5 hours. I did turn it over about half way through just so both sides get a good soak.  Obviously for a bigger joint, leave it in a bit longer! If in doubt, slice a little bit off the edge and have a taste. You are allowed to do this, it’s a perk of being the chef.
  • If you want a hotter oven for your roast potatoes, just take the casserole out of the oven when you think its done and keep the lid on while you cook your roasties.
  • Just before you are ready to serve, take the beef out of the casserole, put on a warm plate and cover with foil.
  • Now thicken the gravy. With the casserole on the hob, mix some cornflour with a bit of cold water and add to the gravy. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time and simmer for a couple of minutes (that gets rid of any powdery taste from the cornflour).
  • Serve!

That looks like a lot of steps, but really it is dead easy! Brown the meat, add liquid and carrots, put in oven, go for a walk/a drive in Austin-Healey Sprite/mow the lawn/hide in shed, thicken, serve.

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My Sprite about to go home for its roast dinner.
You might be thinking what’s the difference between this and a beef casserole cooked in stock or wine? Good question but it definitely is different and more like proper roast beef.

TIPS AND VARIATIONS:

  • If you don’t have a casserole dish that is hob- and oven proof, then brown the meat in a pan and transfer to a casserole.
  • If your casserole does not have a tight fitting lid or if it has a vent in the lid, cover the casserole with foil and then put the lid on.
  • Stock from a cube is fine. In my opinion, made up weaker rather than stronger.
  • One day I may try using a bit of beer (bitter/ale, not lager) instead of wine. If you do that before me, please let me know what it is like.
  • I mentioned that this method gives you half your veg (assuming you want more than just carrots with your roast dinner).  However, you could add some frozen peas just before you bring the gravy back to the boil or add tinned beans such as borlotti or cannellini beans when simmering. Strangely, I have never done this myself and am now wondering why not.
  • Depending on the size of your casserole dish, you may end up with a lot of gravy. This is a good thing. Freeze the leftovers for when you next have bangers and mash.

Colin

 

DEEP-FRIED HAND AND A SIMPLE DIP

DEEP-FRIED HAND

I once deep-fried my right hand. I mentioned this in my first ever cooking post, a now legendary thesis on couscous viewed by tens of people. Since then, I have been asked what on earth was I trying to do. Was I attempting to push the boundaries of cuisine to encompass the truly weird and wonderful, 30 years before Heston Blumenthal had been invented? No, of course not. It was simple stupidity. I was in my last year at school and had yet to take my A-levels so I was officially unintelligent.

One Friday evening I was left to my own devices to cook my dinner. My device of choice was an electric deep fat fryer which I realise now had a serious design defect. As I remember it, there was no handle or other obvious means of lifting the lid. So, having let my chips (or “fries” for my international audience) fry for several minutes, I then wanted to see if they were ready to eat. The fryer had an internal wire basket which you could raise and lower and that basket (unlike the lid) had its own detachable handle. Holding this handle in my left hand, I used one end to poke the fryer’s lid half open. With my right hand I operated the mechanism to raise the internal basket and then put my hand in to grab a chip to taste. I know, I know, this was not the cleverest thing to do. And to think of the millions of pounds the British taxpayer had spent on my education up to that point. Whilst my right hand was under the half raised lid and whilst I was focusing on retrieving a chip to sample, my left hand was not really concentrating on its lid lifting responsibilities. The end of the makeshift lid prop slipped from the edge of the lid whose rather hot underside fell onto my right hand. “Ooh ow!” I said. Or words to the effect. Of course my natural instinct was to withdraw my trapped hand PDQ but the fryer was not going to let its prey go that easily. Result: the fryer and its boiling contents rushed rapidly towards the edge of the kitchen counter. I now had a split second to make a decision. Continue to withdraw my hand and allow the fryer to crash to the floor and spew its scalding, oily contents everywhere? Or keep my hand in the jaws of Hell and use a combination of my body and my left hand to check the teetering fryer’s descent and shovel the whole thing back on to the counter?

Now let me explain something (sorry if the suspense is killing you …). I am not one of life’s heroes. In fact, I am made of 70% afraidium and 30% lily liver. Once, on a business trip to China, I saw a table showing the Western calendar year of my birth to be the year of the dragon. Pretty cool, I thought. Until I realised my birthday (being in January) is just before the Chinese New Year, so I was actually born in the previous Chinese year: the year of the rabbit. How very fitting. I never got into fights at school because I always ran away like a frightened bunny at the first hint of trouble.

So the decision was obvious, wasn’t it? Yes, I gallantly rescued the fryer from its fall, leaving my hand inside and prolonging the agony. WHAT?! WHY???! Well, let me take you into the mind of an eighteen year old male for a moment. A grim prospect I know, but focus on the matter at hand and don’t look in any dark places. You see, the notion of cleaning up a kitchen floor awash with cooking oil and half cooked chips is something that the teenage male of the species just could not countenance. In fact, cleaning anything (including himself) is abhorrent to a young male of that age. These instincts were easily strong enough to overcome the instincts of a raging coward.

Finally, I extricated my wilting and somewhat scarlet hand from the infernal machine. That night in the pub, I ordered a pint of bitter to hold in my left hand and a pint of iced water to hold my right hand. Fortunately, not too much damage was done. I think the basket of chips saved me from the worst that the hot oil could do. You will be pleased to hear that a few months later I passed my A-levels and I have never deep-fried either of my hands since. Just goes to show what a good education can do for you. (I frequently try to cook my hands by other methods but I will leave those tales for another day.)

A SIMPLE DIP

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I know that’s not coriander in the background! I wasn’t feeling exotic that day.

Having read the above, you may think that the simple dip mentioned in the title is me. That would be understandable but no, I’m going to leave you with the simplest idea for an absolutely moreish dip which is a little bit different. Thanks to my sister for this treat. Making it is not only easy but it is absolutely pain free. Get a small tub of soft cream cheese like Philadelphia or a supermarket equivalent. The low fat versions do the job. Turn it out onto a small plate and pour over some sweet chilli dipping sauce. That’s it! If you are out to impress anyone and convince them you are truly exotic, sprinkle over some chopped coriander leaves (over the dip, not yourself although I suppose it depends on how exotic you want to appear). Fresh coriander leaves are called cilantro in the US; travel, like A-levels, is an education but much more fun.

Whether con cilantro or sin cilantro, simply dig in with your favourite dipping implement (now, now, titter ye not). My dipworthy snack product of choice would be a humble wholewheat breadstick. Mix up the sweet chilli sauce with the cheese as you go and you will find it delicious, creamy and cool. In fact, if you have recently scalded your hand it would probably make a delightfully soothing salve…..

Colin

TURKEY THING WITH BEANS AND WILD MUSHROOMS

A return to hope cuisine this week and a dish born out of circumstances and scratching round in the cupboard/fridge/freezer for ingredients. A few weeks ago, we had just returned from a long weekend away and the only fresh food we had was a pack of turkey steaks, a solitary carrot, a lonely onion and some new potatoes.  I also had a jar of posh dried wild mushrooms given to me as a birthday present that I had been longing to try. A much better present than socks which tend to be rather chewy unless stewed for a very long time. Foraging around a bit, I managed to find a few more things to throw in, so it was fingers crossed and hope for the best. Not sure what this dish is called as you may have guessed from the title. Thought about “turkey cassoulet” after the traditional French dish with beans but, nah, this is not really a cassoulet. If you don’t have exactly the same ingredients, don’t worry – there are all sorts of variations you could try (see below).

INGREDIENTS (for 4):

  • 375g turkey steak, cut into chunks;
  • A good handful of dried, wild mushrooms, reconstituted as per their instructions (keep the water you soak them in!);
  • One medium red onion, chopped;
  • One or two garlic cloves, chopped or crushed;
  • 3 or 4 red wine ice cubes(!!! See Tips and Variations) or a good glug of red wine straight from the bottle;
  • Tin of borlotti beans;
  • Diced carrots, already steamed or boiled;
  • One or two teaspoons of cornflour.

In a large frying pan, gently fry the onion, mushrooms and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft, then tip into a bowl to set aside. Whack the heat up a little bit and brown the turkey, adding a bit more oil if necessary. Once the turkey is browned, add back the onion and garlic then pour in the water from the mushrooms and the red wine/ice cubes. Simmer this lot gently for 10-15 minutes or until the turkey is cooked through which will depend on the size of your chunks.  Then add the beans and carrots and heat these through. You may need to add a little bit more water (or stock). I didn’t have the dish swimming in liquid but did add a bit of cornflour mixed with water to thicken it slightly. Add salt and pepper as you wish.

I served this with new potatoes with lots of butter and black pepper.

TIPS AND VARIATIONS:

  • Wine ice cubes. If you ever have any wine left over that would otherwise be thrown away (this may be an alien concept to some), pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze. Then you can add a touch of sophistication to those midweek meals when opening a whole bottle may be a bit too extravagant.
  • If we had had white wine cubes in the freezer I might have used those instead of red.
  • I used borlotti beans but other beans such as cannellini or aduki would be fine. Or even a tin of lentils. Baked beans would be too weird(!).
  • Beans and lentils are great for making meat go further and making you feel that your meal is that little bit healthier (and cheaper)! If your kids have an issue with vegetables, try adding green lentils to mince – you can hardly tell that they are there (the lentils that is, not the kids).
  • If you don’t have dried mushrooms, use fresh or no mushrooms at all! Who cares?You won’t have the water from re-hydrating the dried mushrooms so use a bit of chicken or vegetable stock instead. Cubes are fine – no stock snobbery here, although I now prefer those jelly-like blobs rather than the dry crumbly cubes. Stock from blobs/cubes can be a bit over-powering so I often make it up a bit weaker than recommended on the packet depending on what I am making (subtle versus hearty).
  • Add the cornflour (mixed with a bit of water) a bit at a time until you have the consistency you want. Keep stirring as you go otherwise you get lumps!
  • Chicken or Quorn would be obvious alternatives to turkey. Maybe left over roast gammon?
  • If you add salt, it really should be flakes of sea salt. You won’t be able to taste the difference between this and normal table salt, but you will feel like a chef off the telly as you casually dip your fingers into a handily placed salt pig and sprinkle those flakes of saltiness over your dish. Hold your hand higher than it really needs to be for the full TV chef effect and don’t forget that little swirling motion (with your hand).
  • A bit of chopped, fresh parsley might have been a nice finishing touch but we didn’t have any.

Colin

CORONATION CHICKEN IS DEAD – LONG LIVE TAJ MAHAL CHICKEN!

Ever wondered why Coronation Chicken is called Coronation Chicken? Because it was made in 1953. All of it. Every portion of this creamy, lightly curried cold buffet treat that you have ever had was made over sixty years ago. That’s why it’s gone yellow. Yes, this heavenly chicken dish was created for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The Queen wanted a special dish that could be enjoyed at the coronation luncheon alongside the usual cold cuts (haslet, spam, tongue etc) and washed down with a specially-commissioned ginger beer. What’s more, the Queen wanted this dish to be a gift to the nation in order to lift spirits in those austere, post-war times when food rationing was still in force.

The Queen’s head chef at Windsor Castle, Barry du Brûlecoq, was tasked with creating the centre piece dish for the big day. Combining cold chicken, mayonnaise and spices from the former empire, Monsieur du Brûlecoq’s creation was inspired. Heaven on a plate, in a jacket potato or in a humble sandwich (or on the end of a finger straight from the tub in the fridge – but don’t tell the wife). However, this was to be a one-off. The Queen’s gift came in the form of a super-industrial quantity manufactured over a period of five months in conditions of great secrecy. After that the recipe was destroyed. The new dish, named Coronation Chicken by Monsieur du Brûlecoq, was a great hit at the formal luncheon which was attended by dignitaries and members of royal families from all over the world. The Jamaican ambassador was heard to pronounce “Man, that was sick”. Well ahead of his time. After the big day, Coronation Chicken was released for sale to a public eager to know what it was like to eat like royalty. It was a roaring success and has never looked back.

So, if the nation’s entire stock of Coronation Chicken was made in one large batch, where has it been stored all these years? Well, virtually in plain sight in one of Britain’s notable sporting landmarks. Did you know that the famous Gasholder No. 1 next to the Oval cricket ground in London is a Grade II listed building? Why? Because it is architecturally interesting? Really?? Of course not. It is because it holds the dwindling stash of the nation’s favourite cold chicken dish. The four gasholders next to the Oval were considered the perfect storage facility back in 1953 due to the fact that a gasholder physically reduces in height as its contents diminish (less air = fresher Coronation Chicken). Now three of the Oval gasholders are empty and Gasholder No. 1 will soon be giving up the last of its golden treasure. For proof, see the photos below. Black and white photo (1953): full. Colour (2012): almost empty.

In addition to the Oval gasholders, there was one other store. The Queen used to have her own stash in a brick-lined vault under Windsor Castle. However, after the devastating fire of 1992, she became the proud owner of a large amount of chicken tikka (the brick-lined vault proving to be an ideal tandoor when heated by the fire). Now Her Majesty and Prince Phillip regularly enjoy Chicken Tikka Masala and a pint of Cobra lager on a Saturday evening while watching Britain’s Got Talent.

So for how long will we be able to enjoy Coronation Chicken? Depressingly, experts reckon it will run out in 2018 at four o’clock. I know this will come as a shock to many of you. But don’t panic! Keep calm and make Taj Mahal Chicken instead. This is a recipe I got from my sister-in-law several years ago and I reckon it goes one better than Coronation Chicken. The addition of red wine is a sophisticated touch for these post-rationing times. So, Coronation Chicken is (almost) dead – Long Live Taj Mahal Chicken.

Here’s the recipe set out in a sensible fashion without too much puerile intervention from me. This makes quite a large quantity but maybe you could store the leftovers in an old gas bottle…

TAJ MAHAL CHICKEN

Ingredients:-

1 tablespoon oil; 1 medium onion; 3 teaspoons curry powder; 1 teaspoon curry paste;  100ml red wine; juice of half a lemon; 2.5 level tablespoons apricot jam; roughly 300ml / half a pint of mayonnaise; 1 large COOKED and COOLED chicken (about 2kg / 4lbs)

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add onion and fry gently until tender. Add curry powder and paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the wine, lemon juice and jam and cook over a brisk heat for about 3 minutes until they have reduced a bit. Leave this mixture to cool thoroughly.

Remove the meat from the chicken and cut or pull/tear (depending on your aesthetic preferences!) into chunks. Again, you choose what size chunks, there’s no law about this.

Now the original recipe says stir the curry mixture into the mayonnaise before adding the chicken. However, I found it is more sensible to add the mayonnaise to the chicken first. That way you can choose the overall mayonnaisy(?) consistency you want and you may avoid wasting some mayonnaise. Then stir in the curry mixture thoroughly. You can do this bit by bit until you have the strength of curry flavour you want. If you’re tasting as you go along, remember to use a clean finger each time. If you run out of fingers, then remove a shoe and sock. However, if it comes to that, may I suggest you’re being a bit cautious in the amount of mixture you’re adding each time.

There, all done. If you make this for a posh do (e.g. coronation, royal wedding), you could garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, lightly toasted almonds and/or some freshly chopped coriander.

Colin

EASY SALMON WITH PARMA HAM AND PESTO

I can’t remember where I first came across this dish but it was many years ago and it has been a regular in our household ever since. If you are expecting guests and are in a bit of a fluster, try this. Again, it’s a good one for the lazy or less able cook but it is presentable enough for a modest dinner party – especially if your guests know you are not exactly a past winner of TV’s Masterchef. If their expectations are low, the better the chance that you will exceed them with this dish. Here goes:-
– Take a salmon fillet per person and put them (salmon not persons) in an oiled roasting tin or oven proof dish.
– Spread each one generously with pesto. Red or green, it’s up to you (I happen to prefer red pesto).
– Cover each fillet with a slice of Parma, Serrano, the whatsit called German one or similar raw ham (or, if you will, prosciutto crudo which sounds more glamorous than “raw ham” but means the same).
There, you have done the hard part. For a quick family weekday tea you could stop there (apart from the oven bit below which is quite important). For a Saturday evening meal with DVD or for your modest dinner party, carry on as follows:
– Slit a cross in the top of some cherry tomatoes (a small serrated knife is best for this). As many as you like, maybe 5 or 6 toms per person. Scatter them with reckless abandon in the tin/dish with the salmon.
– Splash some balsamic vinegar over the lot.
– Put in oven on 190C/Gas Mark 5 for about 20 minutes.
– Five minutes before the end sprinkle over some torn up or chopped basil leaves.
The good thing with this dish is that it comes with a ready-made sauce. Some pesto will leak out from under the ham and combine with the balsamic vinegar and juices from the salmon and tomatoes. The important thing is not to use too big a roasting tin or oven dish otherwise the juices with probably reduce down to a dry black crust that needs to be chiselled off the bottom. So don’t, for example, put two bits of salmon in your largest turkey tin!
Now serve. But what with? After all that exertion, you could go for the minimalist/gastro pub/less is more approach. Maybe some steamed green vegetables (broccoli or green beans?) and chunks of posh bread – focaccia or ciabatta perhaps.
If you don’t have a steamer, then you can obviously boil your vegetable of choice. But remember, in order to save time and the earth’s natural resources, use just enough water to cover your vegetables. The same applies when taking a bath.
If you adopt the less is more approach, be bold and put the salmon in the middle of the plate. Anywhere else and people will just think that you have forgotten something. Spoon over the juices and tomatoes and decide where the vegetables look most at home.
If you are of an arty disposition, I’m afraid the sauce is not thick enough to do those stupid smears across the plate, so beloved of pretentious twits on Masterchef. You know, when they put a small dollop on the plate and then quickly drag it to one side with the back of a teaspoon. What is the point???? Please just spoon this sauce over the salmon in a quantity that you can actually taste and that can be mopped up with a hunk of bread.
A tip for a slightly cheaper variation: use bacon instead of ham (smoked would be my preference). It looks more elegant if the bacon is stretched out so that it is thinner. To do this put a rasher on a board and lightly drag the blunt side of a table knife along the bacon (the knife being across, not in line with the bacon otherwise you will just be ploughing furrows in your rasher). Or just push the pads of your fingers along the rasher. If you used your fingers and enjoyed it too much, then you would probably like the cover of the Undertones’ 1983 album, All Wrapped Up, as bed time reading.
undertones-all-wrapped-up
Years ahead of Lady Gaga and her meat dress
Two rashers of streaky (cut to length) are probably needed per salmon fillet but one rasher of back bacon would be enough. The lack of fat makes back bacon harder to stretch out though. If you are not bothered about presentation, just put the back bacon on “as is” and give your salmon a duvet rather than silk sheet.
Hope this works for you. If it was all too much, I have an even simpler idea for salmon which may feature in a later post.
Colin

MAKING SOUP AND A HAZARDOUS CELERIAC AND STILTON VARIETY

When it comes to cooking, I think it is a good idea to learn techniques rather than specific recipes. For the lazy or inept cook, the best technique to learn is persuading other people to cook for you. If that fails, learning the principles of a basic casserole or pan frying meat and making an accompanying sauce using the pan juices will lead to a life of endless variety because you just apply the technique to different ingredients. The same applies with learning how to make a basic soup.

The idea for this grown up sounding celeriac and Stilton combination was governed totally by ingredients we had left over following a New Year’s Eve meal. The meal included root vegetables and cheese and biscuits but not in the same course. This quantity only serves two; again this is down to the amount of we had left at the time. Why not don your safety goggles (read on!) and give this easy but slightly hazardous soup a go. I’ll then give some tips on applying the technique.
Peel and dice a quarter of a celeriac, one and a half parsnips and a stick of celery (no, no, don’t attempt to peel the celery, that would be quite difficult). All the celeriac in our local supermarket were about the same size but I don’t know if there is a global standard dictating the size of this knobbly vegetable. I guess the one we had was no bigger than 6 inches/15cm in diameter. Roughly chop a smallish onion and small garlic clove. Melt some butter in the bottom of a pan then add the vegetables and gently fry for a few minutes. You are not trying to cook the vegetables but this process helps bring out the flavour (that’s what I was always told). Cover the vegetables generously with water plus a bit more. Sorry I can’t be more precise but that is usually how I cook (“hope cuisine” as referred to in my “Welcome” post and About page). So I just did this by gut feel but, fear not, you can adjust things later on.
Bring the pan to the boil, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes. When vegetables are very soft, turn off heat and blitz with electric hand blender until smooth. Carefully wipe the scalding soup from your eyes and the wall behind the hob. Change shirt. Make mental note to self to wear an apron next time. Yes, blitzing in the pan can be a hazardous operation especially with such a small quantity of soup (the quantity having got even smaller as a result). The problem with such a small quantity of liquid is that there is not really enough to cover the business end of the blender when you tilt it to capture lumps of vegetable. Tip: transfer the soup to a taller, narrower vessel. Sensible folk will also wait for it to cool down a bit before blitzing.
If the soup ends up too thick, add more water or maybe milk. If it’s too thin, tough! You live and learn. Actually you could add more veg and continue simmering. If you have no more celeriac or parsnip left then you could use potato.
Once you have cleaned up yourself and your kitchen, add freshly ground black pepper and then crumble in Stilton cheese to taste. I used maybe 2oz/50g (that’s all I had) which gave a subtle flavour. You can add more if you want a stronger Stiltony taste. That’s the beauty of this soup – it can be personalised. Add bit of salt if you think it is needed but the cheese probably provides enough saltiness.
From the above, you can extract a technique for making basic vegetable soups:
  • Peel and dice some vegetables (could even be leftover, cooked veg from a meal)
  • Simmer in liquid (I actually use stock – chicken, vegetable, turkey or ham – for most soups rather than water)
  • Blitz (carefully) with electric hand blender
  • Clean kitchen
If the veg are robust enough (i.e. root vegetables, peppers, leeks, courgette), I include the frying stage described above before adding the liquid or I may oven roast the vegetables. Butternut squash (together with onions and red peppers) is a classic for oven roasting until caramelised a bit. This really brings out the flavour and sweetness. Onions go in virtually all of the soups I make.
You can also add additional flavours at the frying/roasting stage. Try spices such as cinnamon or cumin and coriander with butternut squash or sweet potato or ginger with parsnip (and maybe add some apple in with the vegetables). Smoked paprika and/or chorizo are particular favourites of mine to add to the veg. (I adore the aroma of smoked paprika and have been caught inhaling directly from the jar; I’m trying to kick the habit though).
After you have made your basic soup, you can add things at the finish, e.g. chopped meat such as chicken, turkey, ham or more chorizo and/or herbs. A bit of cream or yoghurt may also be a suitable additive.
So why not have go at inventing your own soup? If you are unsure of results, you could always try it on the mother-in-law first.
celeriac
Interesting picture of celeriac. Mind your fingers.
Colin