Category Archives: Vegetarian

Pearl Barley and Puy Lentil Salad

I have recently started working at the gorgeous Anderson & Co in Peckham from Wednesday to Friday cooking breakfasts and lunches. The cafe opened nearly 2 years ago and have graced our local high street with excellent coffee and homemade food and cakes. The best thing about having a new job is all the new people to cook for. I have had a lovely freedom to experiment since starting and I hope to share a few of the recipes we have been serving up to our lovely customers.

This one had been brewing in my mind for a while as I absolutely adore pearl barley and its nubby, nutty little bite. I wanted to create a salad that was a substantial meal and contained enough variety in each bite to keep you interested. I find that a salad is often so samey, every bite the same combination. A great salad, awakens your tastebuds with texture, variety and flavour.

There are several elements to this salad to give it it’s zingy fresh mix of pimento, sweet squash and fresh mint but one of the main flavours comes from the marinaded peppers. These are equally good just on their own and keep excellently in the fridge. Make a big batch and serve them on pizza or as antipasti. Make these first, and roast the butternut squash for the salad at the same time.

Marinaded Peppers

6 Red cap peppers

1 tsp sherry vinegar

1/3 tsp paprika

1 tbsp olive oil

Brush a baking sheet with a little oil and turn the oven on high (Gas 6, 200 degrees)

While the oven is pre-heating, cut your peppers in half and remove the stalk and seeds.

Place the peppers face down, skin side up on the baking tray.

Put them in the hot oven until the skins are starting to blacken and the flesh shrink. About 30-40 minutes.

When they are ready take them out of the oven and move them from the baking tray to either a plastic bag or a bowl that you can cover with clingfilm. This makes the peppers sweat and after 15 minutes they will be cool enough to handle and the skins will peel off easily. Retain all the liquid they will have seeped out.

Once they are all peeled put the peppers and their lovely juices in a jar or bowl and add the vinegar, paprika and olive oil and mix.

 

Now your peppers are made we can get on with the salad…

Pearl Barley and Puy Lentil Salad

250g pearl barley

150g puy lentils

1/2 a butternut squash, cut into cubes about 2cm

A small handful of marinaded peppers torn into strips (and a few tablespoons of their juices if you can spare them)

1 large red onion, sliced into very thin rounds or strips

4 chorizo sausages

a large handful of parsley, chopped

a large handful of mint, chopped

A few spoons of yoghurt to serve, with extra mint stirred through if you fancy

 

First roast your butternut squash on a big tray with a slosh of olive oil and some salt and pepper for about 40 minutes at gas 6 or 200degrees

Cook the pearl barley and puy lentils in separate pans of deep salted water for the required amount of time (barley about 30-40 mins, lentils a little less). Both behave very well and need no pre-soaking or faffing.

Fry your chorizo in a pan until it’s sticky on the outside and has released it’s fiery red oil. Slice the chorizo into bite sized pieces.

When the lentils and barley are cooked, drain and while still warm, toss with the thinly sliced onions and a couple of tablespoons of the chorizo oil. When it has cooled add the butternut, chorizo, peppers and herbs and serve either slightly warm or at room temperature. It goes beautifully with a simple green salad on the side and a dollop of mint spiked yoghurt on top.

 

 

 

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Filed under Lunch, Meat, Pulses, Quick, Recipes, Starter, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Preserving and Pickling Things…

Sometimes there just aren’t enough accompaniments and condiments in the fridge. Actually, when you live with a vinegar addict, there are never enough condiments in the fridge. At times I believe he would prefer a sandwich without the bread, just  many varying condiments and pickled items in between two slices of cheese… So I indulge him from time to time.

I really like pickling and preserving things. There’s something very rewarding about sealing something up in a jar and saving it up for just the right moment. The tomato chutney I wrote about last year in October rested and waited very patiently in the fridge until I  decided our Christmas party was the right time for it’s glorious showcase.  We scooped it up onto on rye crackers with a soft goats cheese. It was a sensational (though I do say so myself) combination, soft, crunchy and strong; and it had just been waiting, very quietly for its perfect pairing and all I had to do was open a jar.

Pickled Onions

These make an excellent gift, I gave jars and jars away at Christmas. There is nothing nicer than left over cold meats, some strong cheese and a pickled onion.

You have to start pickled onions the day before, to give them a good brine. Some recipes don’t call for this but I  like to as it tenderises them before submerging them in the vinegar and then you don’t have to wait so long to open the jar and eat! Maybe 3 weeks instead of 6. The quantity below will make about 3 medium kilner jars but if you’re making gifts double or even triple it. Check how the un-prepared onions fit in your jars before you start so you don’t get left with one lone onion with nowhere to go.

1 lb pickling onions or shallots

1oz salt

Pickling spice about 1/2 a teaspoon per jar : I make up a mix and store it in an old spice jar: use 2tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp dried chilli, 2 tsp peppercorns, 2 tsp all spice, 2 tsp corriander seed.

600ml vinegar (I use a mixture of malt and white)

100g brown sugar

1 dried bay leaf per jar

First, begin the long slow process of peeling your onions. I like to leave the long top on mine so I just slice off the flat root end and then laboriously peel the brown layers away

Now heat about 1l of water mixed with the 1oz salt until the salt has dissolved. Let the water cool down and then submerge your onions and weigh them down. I use a plate and the kilner jars. Now leave this overnight.

The next day, drain your onions and sterilise your jars. I do this by washing them in very hot soapy water and putting them in a hot oven to dry. I put lids or the orange seals into boiling water for a minute.

Now heat the vinegars, sugar and pickling spice over a low heat until it just comes to the boil. Now turn it off.
Divide your onions between the warm dry jars, pop in a bay leaf and pour the vinegar over. You can drain the spices out of the vinegar if you want as they will have released  their flavour into the hot vinegar, but I leave mine in.

Now seal the jars up and store them for a minimum of 2 weeks before you eat them.

Now for the beetroot. Measurements are approximate here as it depends on how much you want to make and how big your beetroots are! I made one jar of these because I had 2 huge beetroots and guessed at the vinegar quantity. If you have vinegar left over, store it in a jar with all the spices and then use it as a ‘starter’ for your next pickling escapade.

Pickled Beetroot

4 medium fresh beetroot

200ml malt vinegar

1 tsp of spice mix mentioned above. (In beetroot you can also use cinnamon sticks and cloves for a lovely rich flavour)

1-2tbsp golden caster sugar

Sterilise a jar as mentioned before

First boil your beetroot whole and unpeeled in water for around 30 minutes or until tender to the point of a knife

When they are ready, run them under cold water or let them cool down before you peel them. The skin will come away easily but I still use a peeler to minimise the purple fingers!

Now slice your beetroots into the shape and size you fancy. I did mine in half and then into 4, you don’t want them to be too chunky. Rounds are also nice because you can see the lovely pattern inside the beetroot…and they fit into a sandwich better.

Tightly pack all your beetroot pieces into your sterilised jar

Warm your vinegar sugar and spices in a pan and then strain it over the beetroots.

Seal the jar and wait at least 2-3 weeks. Or if you’re Tom, open immediately and consume within 3 days.

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Filed under Kitchen Tips, Pickle, Preserving, Recipes, vegetables, Vegetarian

Suet Pastry and Perfect Custard

A relatively short notice event came my way a couple of weeks ago to cook for 40 guests at the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham. 40 is the high end of what I can do easily due to the size of my little kitchen but with a little bit of experimentation and a lot of post-its and schedules I can make it work!

We decided on a traditional British theme which was essentially Pie ‘n’ Mash and Rhubarb ‘n’ Custard. I wanted it to have a cafeteria feel and give people the opportunity to share their food and meet each other over dinner so each pie was to share between 4.

The capabilities of cooking in a Gallery with no kitchen and no heating (!) meant I had to come up with something that could be cooked in an impromptu space, be served quickly and stay piping hot A tall order, but one to relish. Sharing is something I like to focus on in my catering as I think one of the main joys of food is to share it with others and to make an event of it.

The Capper Ripper Dinner

Chicory with Blue Cheese, Apple and Walnuts

*

Shin of Beef Pies with Suet Pastry

Parsley Mash

Greens

*

Rhubarb and Custard

The recipes I’d like to share with you are for the suet pastry which was unbelievably good and a perfect vanilla custard.

The pastry I made using vegetarian suet as I also had to whip up a few mushroom pies for the vegetarians and I only wanted to make one batch of pastry. It is a fantastic and versatile pastry that puffs up beautifully in the oven, is flaky and rich and resilient enough to last a car journey and not get soggy!

Suet Pastry

300g plain flour

100g atora suet (beef or vegatable)

100g butter

a large pinch of sea salt

125ml cold water

1 egg beaten to use as a glaze

Mix the flour, suet and salt in a bowl

Chop your butter into small cubes and add this to the mix. Slowly mix the butter into the flour with your fingers as you would when making a crumble. Lift it up and rub the butter between your fingers, you want to make flakes rather than a breadcrumb texture. When you have no large lumps left and the texture is even pour in the water a little at a time and shape the pastry into a rough ball. It takes a lot more water than a shortcrust pastry and should be sticky so don’t be afraid to add it all.

Refrigerate the pastry until you are ready to use it, it will benefit for at least half an hour in the fridge before use. This amount will cover 4, 24cm pies or one lovely large one. I use these enamel pie dishes by Falcon:

When you are ready to use the pastry dust a surface and your rolling pin with flour and roll your pastry to the size you need. Because it is quite sticky you will need a lot of flour to keep the pastry from sticking and keep turning it. It is pretty flexible because if the high liquid content and is easier to manouvre than regular short crust or rough puff pastry.
Now brush a little of the egg wash on the edge of your pie dish and lift the pastry onto the top. To stick and shape it nicely slice the the overhanging pastry off by angling your knife away from the edge so you have a bit more to play with. Now get a fork and gently press all around the edges then use your thumb and forefinger to make little pinches all around.  If you have any pastry left over, freeze it or make some decorations! The decor in the picture of my pies is meant to depict cogs.. I don’t know quite how successful that was, but they look nice! I also made a few little vegetarian pies with a mushroom ragout filling scented with red wine and thyme.

To finish them off brush the pastry with egg wash and bake at Gas 4 (180 degrees)  for around 1 hour.

Some pie filling suggestions:

Steak and ale 

Shin of beef and pearl barley

Mushroom Ragout

Butternut squash, goats cheese and spinach

Chicken and mushroom

And now for pudding. There really isn’t anything more delicate and beautiful than a real custard. It is a little time consuming but if you have the patience to stir and watch and sit and relax, then anyone can do it. Essentially custard is just milk eggs and sugar, stirred slowly over a very low heat until it thickens slightly to coat the back of a spoon. It is not gloopy like custard from a tin or a powder. Most online recipes I found seem to use cornflour to thicken it but this is almost certainly cheating and is definitely unnecessary. The result can not possibly be as smooth or as silky as a true labour of love custard.

Perfect Vanilla Custard

1 pint of whole milk (or 1/2pint of milk and 1/2 pint of double cream)

1 vanilla pod

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2tbs castor sugar plus extra for sprinkling.

Split your vanilla bean along it’s thin edge so the seeds can be released when it’s in the milk

Put the bean in a large pan with the milk (and cream if using) and scald it (this means to heat it to just before it boils) Keep an eye on it and make sure the heat is low so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan

Now turn the heat off, put a lid on and leave it to infuse for 20 minutes

In the meantime, put the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly until it foams.

When the 20 minutes is up remove the vanilla bean from the milk (give it shake and a squeeze to tease out all the seeds if they haven’t all released) and discard

Now turn the heat on under the milk infusion to it’s lowest setting and strain the eggs into it to make sure there are no lumps.

Now get a whisk or a wooden spoon, and stir slowly and constantly for anywhere up to 30 minutes until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Do not stop stirring otherwise you will get lumps.

Mine took 45 minutes but I had double this quantity so yours should take around 20.

When it is done either serve immediately or if you have to serve it later, pour the custard into a bowl and sprinkle castor sugar over the surface. This will stop it developing a skin. To re-heat, put it back into the pan, and again, on a low heat and with constant stirring bring it back up to the required temperature.

I served the custard with a little square of almond cake, (recipe in earlier post just scroll down for a while) and rhubarb roasted with ginger syrup sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds.

The picture below is my own enormous portion! It was delicious. Everyone else had a far more elegant plate… honest.

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Filed under Baking, Cake, Catering, Pudding, Supper, Vegetarian

A Sourdough Day

For most people Sunday is used as a day of rest and relaxation; put your feet up and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. For me, I want to be brewing the pot and making the biscuits. Last Sunday was no different, I invited a friend over for a day of sourdough experimentation! I’d spent the week nurturing what became affectionately known as my ‘alien baby’ otherwise known as a sourdough starter.  Here it is in all it’s bubbly fermented glory!

To start this off, I used a San Fransico sourdough culture bought for me by the same dear friend who came over to help. This was to be mixed with strong bread flour and water and then fed every day for a week. Some of the instructions were baffling “Leave your starter in a warm place between 80 and 90 degrees” even in fahrenheit this is outrageously warm for a February (or even mid summer!) in London. I put it by the boiler and hoped for the best. I nurtured this creature for a week, feeding it every day with flour and warmed water, stirring it, sniffing it, until it reached this very alive and yeasty stage.

The next part of my story is less successful. I’m sharing it with you because the starter gave rise (no pun intended) to a really excellent day of eating, cooking and catching up with a great friend and because the starter was such a bubbly success I just had to show you… the bread, alas, was not so successful hence why no recipe is included. I’ll wait until it’s fool proof.

We discovered early on that not only does the starter take an awfully long time to prepare, so too does the bread itself. Most recipes I found started at 8.30 in the morning and then had half an hour timed instructions through to 6pm! We thought the hard part was over with the starter, no such luck. Eventually we found a recipe that was more to our liking, mainly because it appeared not to take as long as some of the others. It did however, seem a bit untrustworthy, the fellow who wrote it was a shifty looking character and the instructions were a little hazy which is not a good sign in a bread recipe. Despite this we ploughed ahead and created a lovely sticky dough

We then had to knead it for 15 seconds, then rest for 30 minutes. Yes that’s right, 15 seconds – 30 minutes. You repeat this step over many hours increasing the resting time each time. At one point you swap from the mini kneads to a stretching and folding routine. Our dough was really rather nice, soft, floppy, warm and glutinous maximus! When tipping it out of the bowl, it hung on for ages, stretching it’s gluten enriched strands down towards the table in a most satisfyingly alien manner. Unfortunately I didn’t get a great picture of this because by that time, it was getting dark.

To relieve ourselves of the monotony, we decided to throw together some lunch. I, of course, had originally thought we could have warm bread and cheese, but new plans had to be made. It was a typical Sunday in our fridge, the ends of the week’s shopping and vegetable box hung around waiting for inspiration. There would be a number of things that were off limits as they had been reserved for supper and on this particular Sunday this left very little to play with. With the familar cry of “pasta?” in the air, we foraged until my friend in a flash of inspiration said: “Pasta Con Le Sarde?” After living in Venice for many years, she is very good and seeking out what I cannot when looking at an empty fridge. OBVIOUSLY I did not have any fresh sardines just lying around, but we had most of the rest of the ingredients and to be honest, it was delicious. I can’t wait to try it with the sardines!

 

Pasta Senza Sarde (Pasta Without Sardines)

200g mini orzo pasta

5 anchovies

2 cloves of garlic finely sliced

2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

30g raisins

Parsley, roughly chopped

Parmesan to serve

 

Cook your pasta according to instructions…meanwhile…

Warm a good slug of olive oil in a pan and add the anchovies to melt, slowly on a low heat.

When they have broken down and are smelling lovely add your garlic, raisins and tomatoes and cook slowly until the tomatoes are beginning to break down and the raisins have puffed up a bit

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, loosen it with olive oil, and stir it through the fishy tomatoes, add the parsley at the last moment and serve with Parmesan. Eat with a spoon!

A proper recipe for this, with the correct additions of white wine, fennel and saffron (and of course sardines) can be found here. I’m certainly going to try it.

After lunch we braved the bread again, this time stretching then folding the dough into thirds and then leaving it to rest, again and again…..

It was a very lovely dough. It certainly felt as though it was going the right way… But then, who knew? We were just persevering with the ever complicated recipe and hoping we were on the right track.

The bread making left quite a lot of room to do other things so I decided we needed something sweet. Tea time was fast approaching and the bread was far from ready. Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies were the decided treat and I set about it.

The recipe I used is one from the lovely food blog Smitten Kitchen

These aren’t really a chewy cookie, they are more of a soft tea time mini bun. Tom is insistent that they are rock buns. I will continue to call them cookies because that’s what they appear to be. In reality, he is probably right.

The reason I like this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick. Butter, sugar and an egg are combined in the whizzer, then flour cinnamon and salt are added,  oats and raisins are mixed in at the end and then you simply put dollops of the dough on a tray, chill for 10 minutes then cook for 10 minutes. Excellent and all ready in half an hour.

I like to make mine really small, about a teaspoon of dough per cookie. It is a very good idea to chill them for 10 minutes in the fridge first as they probably have a tendency to spread like mad if you don’t.

I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as it is in full and good order at Smitten Kitchen. If you don’t have American weighing cups, I recommend you get some. They make this sort of cooking so much easier and are very satisfying. Translating recipes from cups is pretty difficult as you can imagine: think of a cup of flour, a cup of dark brown sugar and a cup of walnuts, these are not going to all weigh the same.  Next time I make these, I will weigh each thing and write it down and share it if you really want. But until then, buy some cups.

So after our tea time treat we went back to the bread… Evening was fast approaching and my dear friend was getting tired, she left me with the dough and went home for some well earned rest. I soldiered on with the dough, stretching, folding and resting (I was resting too, 30 minutes of series 1 of ER then back to the kitchen)

As it was now dark I thought I’d better start on dinner so with the remaining bits and bobs in the fridge I whipped up a potato curry. And jolly nice it was too. It was influenced by an Ottolenghi dish and some general online curry recipes.

Potato Curry

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon

700g potatoes, peeled and quartered
200g carrots, peeled and quartered
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs black mustard seeds
1 onion, sliced thin
5cm piece ginger, peeled, grated
1 green chilli, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 or 6 curry leaves
1 tin of good chopped tomatoes
125ml coconut milk

 

Toast the coriander and cumin in a pan until they start popping

Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind them up with the cardamom until they smell wonderful. You can throw away the cardamom skins when the seeds are released

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, fry until soft then add all the spices, ginger and mustard seeds and stir to gently cook them. Now add the chilli, curry leaves, garlic, carrots and  potatoes and mix the while lot together until the potatoes are turning yellow with the turmeric.

When everything is smelling wonderful, add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk and leave it to putter away on a low heat with the lid on for a good hour.

Check on it after this to make sure the potatoes are cooked, then when you are ready to eat, re-heat with the lid off for another 30 minutes.

You could do all this in the oven too if you were so inclined.

I desperately wanted to make Naan bread to go with this but we didn’t have any yoghurt and I still needed to focus on the sourdough, which was gently mocking me from a corner of the room.

Finally it was time to shape the dough. Last year I went on a bread baking course at the wonderful Lighthouse Bakery School. It was such a fantastic day, I highly recommend it. In fact my bread lesson companion was the same as my sourdough buddy, but unfortunately she had long since gone home and so the shaping lesson we had listened so intently to at the Lighthouse was left to me alone to re-create. One thing that really stuck from that day was the lesson not to knead your dough with flour. Instead we were taught to wipe a light layer of olive oil onto the surface, this keeps the dough from sticking and doesn’t add a new component to the dough. Kneading with flour means you ruin the delicate balance of ingredients.

Another important lesson was how to shape the dough using it’s own elasticity, stretching the dough so it forms a ‘skin’ on the top.

You do this by pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself. You do this around 6 times turning after each fold so you have created a taught top (which will be facing down). It still looked like an alien.

To be honest, I knew this was where things would start to go downhill. The recipe I followed only called for one shaping of the dough. A sourdough has an extremely high water content and it spreads if you leave it for even a minute. I think this dough needed 2 shapings.
This is a pretty interesting video. I like how she calls a Boule a Boo-lee!
But it gives you an idea of how crazy this dough is. It runs away from you!

So to cut a very long story a little shorter, I shaped my dough, slashed it and left it to rise one more time and then I put it in the oven for the suggested 40-50 minutes…

 

And I burnt it.

 

That’s right. After a whole day of labor, I burnt the bugger.

And the slashes sealed up on the top leaving me with a huge round black bomb! OK it wasn’t too bad, the top was VERY crispy but it wasn’t totally ruined. The lovely open texture I was hoping for after all that work, was only evident in the top third of the loaf (due to the slashes disappearing I think). Something went very wrong, I am yet to discover what. I think what is needed is a whole lot more experimentation, but really… who has the time?!

Luckily by this point Tom had come home and had brought some raita with him to eat with our potato curry. We sat down and ate while I mourned the death of a loaf… But we still had warm slices of it for pudding with butter and plum jam… And really, who cares if you make a big baking mistake, it’s all learning and you never know, I might get it right one day and until then, we’ll eat it warm with butter and jam and pretend that’s how it’s supposed to be.

 

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Bread, Curry, Lunch, Pasta, Quick, Recipes, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

A Festive Feast for 20 guests

So I have finally completed the Supper Club menu. It was a long and arduous task which involved waking up every morning with recipes stampeding through my head and worries about how to get enough serving dishes and a balanced yet crazy menu. All is now calm as the menu is set, the guests are booked and now all I have to do is cook, shop and plan (my 3 favourite things)


So here it is, the great unveiling of the Festive Feast Menu

***

Monday 19th December, 7:30pm

Peckham Hotel, 137-139 Copeland Road, SE15 3SN

***


Warm Spiced Cider with Cloves and Cinnamon

Rechewys Close and Fryez (Tudor Mince Pies)

.

Pork Pies

Pearl Barley and Beetroot Salads

Brandied Mushroom and Chestnut Pate

.

Pheasants Braised with Madeira

Glazed Carrots

Savoy Cabbage

Jerusalem Artichokes

Stuffed Pumpkins (for the vegetarians)

.

Almond Milk Jelly with Pomegranates and Grapefruit Syrup

Poached Pears

Almond Stuffed Chocolate Dipped Prunes

.

Port

Cheshire Cheese

If THAT doesn’t give everyone gout I don’t know what will.

I can’t wait to see you all there!

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Filed under Baking, Cheese, chocolate, Christmas, Drinks, Fruit, Meat, Pudding, Pulses, Recipes, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Feta, Leek and Spinach on Toast

A quick lunch was required and I was at a loss until I saw the feta in the fridge and decided that it had the type of consistency that would be excellent whipped up into a frenzy with some lightly sauteed veggies and then spread thickly on toast.

Leeks go very well with feta cheese and the addition of spinach was more necessity to use it up and a craving for colour than anything else, but it’s silky texture really added to the finished experiment. This was a brilliantly simple Saturday lunch to whip up when a friend was over. It would be lovely with a crisp glass of white wine.

A variation I have thought of since would be to bake it…. If you fancy trying this just pop the whole lot in the oven for 10 minutes with a little more oil and maybe some fresh tomatoes until the feta gets really spreadable…and let me know how it turns out!

Feta, Leek and Spinach on Toast

1 block of feta

1 leek, sliced

olive oil

20g spinach

Parsley

1/2 lemon

pepper

Slice your leeks into rounds and sautee in a teaspoon of olive oil until soft, then remove them.

Wash the spinach and add to the pan until it has wilted, then squeeze out excess moisture and slice

Chop your feta into very small pieces and put it in a bowl with the parsley, lemon juice and a glug of oil

Beat until it is leaning towards smooth

Now stir in your leeks and spinach and season with plenty of pepper and some more olive oil.

Serve on top of hot toast

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Filed under Cheese, Lunch, Recipes, vegetables, Vegetarian

Minestrone

Another cold day, another soup.

My minestrone is a bit time consuming, because of the amount of ingredients and prep but wonderfully relaxing to cook. Because minestrone is not a smooth soup you have to take the time to make sure the texture just right. I like a minestrone to have all its ingredients chopped very tiny so that you get a lovely nubby mouthful every time but you don’t have to, you can have them cut larger, just adjust the cooking time. You can also make this soup with or without the pancetta but the addition of pork intensifies the flavour, and adds a little luxury. Traditionally minestrone is from the ‘cucina povera’ style of Italian cooking (literally ‘poor cooking’) as it is very cheap and very adaptable. In fact, you can (and should) try to use almost any vegetable, cabbage and turnip are common additions and beans and pasta are the Italian staple ingredients but you can experiment with whatever vegetables are in season and add beans, pancetta and stock to your taste or availability. If you’re really pushing it, just use water instead of stock, it’s not as flavoursome, but still very good.

I always cook my pasta separately if I’m planning on keeping any leftovers otherwise the pasta continues to increase in size while it absorbs all the soup liquid, but if you’re serving it all up, cook the pasta in the soup, it will absorb not only liquid but all the gorgeous flavours. If you can’t find little pasta use spaghetti and break it into smaller pieces before cooking. I’ve included some tips below on speeding up the chopping process but I recommend you take your time, put the radio on (or Desperate Housewives, my current weakness) and slowly prepare until everything is ready in neat little piles ready to cook!

Minestrone

2 oz butter

1 large white onion

(optional) 100g pancetta, cubed

4 carrots

3 sticks of celery

1 leek

1 courgette

4 cloves of garlic

a handful of grated Parmesan and a Parmesan rind (if you have one)

12 small plum tomatoes, quartered

1 1/4 pints stock (chicken or vegetable)

1 tin tomatoes

1 tin cannellini beans

2 tsb olive oil

100g fresh spinach, shredded

200g tiny pasta

salt and pepper

Parmesan to serve

Serves 6

Cut the carrots, celery and courgette into very small dice but keep them in separate piles because you add them at different times

I do my ‘tiny dicing’ by slicing the carrots and courgettes lengthways into about 5mm slices, then turning and doing the same lengthways slices to make strips. Then chop into little square dice:

Chop your onion finely and the leek into thin rounds.

Melt the butter in a large enough pan to hold all the ingredients and sweat the onions celery and carrots (and pancetta if your using it) on a very low heat for 10 minutes with the lid on.

After 5 minutes add the courgettes, garlic, leek and courgettes and continue with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are only just cooked.

Now add the fresh tomatoes, Parmesan, Parmesan rind and stock. Add the chopped tomatoes and bring the whole lot up to simmering point. I like to chop the tomatoes into smaller pieces while they are still in the tin using scissors

Add the pasta to the soup or boil a separate pan of salted water and cook the pasta until al dente

Season your soup to taste

In the final moments before serving add the spinach, and cooked beans and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil (don’t forget to remove the Parmesan rind!)

If you have cooked the pasta separately stir some olive oil through it and serve the soup with a few spoonfuls on top.

Absolutely delicous. I must say, it’s one of my favourite things to eat on a cold day. Warming and hearty, yet not heavy.



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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, Pulses, Recipes, Soup, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian