Soupe au Pistou

I never like to admit it, but I am a bit behind on my veg box. I seem to have been so busy with work and kids and endless things that they need for school before the end on term, that I am constantly pushed for time. This is one of my favourite soups, a French version of the better known Minestrone. I first remember seeing Soupe au Pistou in Marie Claire magazine probably about 30 years ago, when the food writer was a little known guy called Nigel Slater. I can still remember the photos and it looked so simple yet sophisticated.

What is great is, although it takes a little time to make what with all the chopping, it uses up lots of veg. You can be experimental with the ingredients but I piled in heaps of onion, celery, carrots, courgettes and broad beans.

If you too are pushed for time you can buy ready cooked beans and even buy some good quality pesto rather than make your own.

Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou

Try to have all the vegetables diced about the same size, which makes for a nice presentation. Of course, you can vary the vegetables according to what’s available. If you wish to use canned beans, use 1 400g tin on haricot or cannellini beans. For vegans, leave out the Parmesan.

For the soup

1 cup (200g) dried beans (haricot or cannellini) or 400g tin of beans

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or dried oregano

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 medium courgettes, diced

200g shelled  broad beans

200g fresh shelled peas (or frozen)

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or thinly slice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

100g dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells

For the pistou

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

pinch of salt

2 cups (40g) packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil

1 small tomato; peeled, seeded, and diced

1 1/2 ounces (45g) Parmesan cheese, grated

Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside. Alternatively use 1 tin of canned cannellini or haricot beans.

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the thyme or marjoram, diced carrots, zucchini, garlic, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the cooked beans and their liquid, then the peas and pasta, plus 2 2l water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer a few minutes until the pasta is cooked. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and boil the broad beans for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water to refresh. Slip the broad beans out of their outer shell. When the soup is cooked, check the seasoning and add the broad beans.

While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle (or use a food processor) with a generous pinch of salt. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and pound them into the garlic until the mixture is relatively smooth.Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while pounding, then pound in the tomato and cheese. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.

To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to the centre and swirl gently. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.

Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water.

Courgettes

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Finally some real sunshine at the weekend, almost summeresque and as always in the heat, I get to thinking about chilled soup.

Here is a recipe for one of the best and a great use-up of any salad leaves you happen to have. You can use anything from rocket to batavia, watercress to baby gem. I like a big handful of fresh spinach too, for a beautiful deep green hue. There is baby spinach in the boxes now so you can just chuck it straight in. Don’t forget the herbs. I particularly like basil or chives. For the base you can use spring onions, leeks or bunched onions, whatever you have. The potatoes can be any variety too and you don’t even have to serve it chilled – it is delicious hot too!

Chilled Salad Soup with Creme Fraiche & Herbs

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Good glug of extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped (could be a few spring onions)

250g potatoes, peeled and chopped into even sized pieces

450g to 500g assorted green lettuce & salad leaves (such as batavia or baby gem lettuce, sorrel, watercress, rocket, spinach and nettles)

Herbs of your choice – mint, chives, basil etc,

250ml Crème Fraiche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Sweat the onion down in a good glug of extra virgin olive oil for about 10 minutes or so until just beginning to colour. Add the potatoes and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for about another 10 minutes or so. Cover with water and cook just until the potatoes are soft. Add more water if necessary.  Remove from the heat and stir in all the greens/herbs and whiz up with a hand blender. Adjust the consistency. It should not be gloopy but also not too thin. Add the Crème Fraiche and check seasoning. Serve hot or cold. You can add a swirl more of Crème Fraiche or add a few freshly chopped herbs.

Spinach

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

First broad beans of the year turned up in my box this week. It is always so exciting to get the first of the seasons, like meeting a long lost friend. I realized these were the first broad beans of the year, which I was shelling when I discovered that I could no longer shell in my usual way. (I am a confirmed and devout double podder.) My finger, which I trapped in a door back in last November, had subsequently lost its nail and although it has almost nearly regrown, it was still not quite long enough for broad bean shelling. As a result, I have had to adapt and learn to do it left handed.

There is no better homage to new season’s vegetables than The River Cafe’s Summer Minestrone from their fantastic first book. It is not strictly a Minestrone at all as it contains no dried beans, pasta or bacon and I was full of apprehension when I came to make it again, as the recipe seemed so simple and I had not tasted since I was working there, about 20 years ago.  I remembered it being the most stunning soup and I was anxious that it was not going to live up to its memory. I felt it wasn’t quite “room temperature soup” weather yet so I served mine warmish. I needn’t had worried – it was absolutely delicious. I even managed to find it still on The River Cafe’s Summer Menu on their website, and at £12.50 a bowl, it damn well should be!

You can make your own pesto or buy a good quality one. Riverford stock an organic one, but I have included a recipe, just in case you happen to find yourself overwhelmed by a glut of basil.

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

The River Cafe Cook Book

This Recipe Serves 10

I halved the recipe and had enough for 6. Also, as I was making it for a Vegetarian, I just used water instead of chicken stock and it was just as delicious. As I said, I like double podding my broad beans, so I blanched them first and shelled them again, before adding right at the end to keep their super spring green colour.

2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
1 small head celery, chopped
3 small red onions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
900g thin asparagus trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces using only tips and tender parts
450g young green beans ,trimmed and chopped
450g peas, shelled
900g broad beans, shelled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1L chicken stock
1/2 bunch basil finely chopped (or marjoram or mint)
300ml double cream
150g Parmesan freshly grated
120ml pesto

In a heavy sauce pan fry the garlic celery and onion gently in the olive oil until soft about 10 minutes.

Divide all other vegetables between two bowls. Add half to the onion mixture and cook stirring to coat with oil for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the herbs, cream, Parmesan and pesto. Stir to cool at room temperature,  then serve.

Herb Box

Pesto

½ a clove of garlic, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
A handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Optional
A small squeeze of lemon juice

Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an good consistency.

Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.

Broad beand shelled

Ribollita

Veg boxes are a bit like allotments, in that one always seems to be lacking in something one month only to have a glut of it the next. I was lamenting the lack of greens over January but I am now inundated with Chard, Cime di Rapa, Cavalo Nero and Spinach and Spring Greens. One of my favourite soups sprang to mind, a fantastic peasant soup, cheap and wholesome and packed with nutritious greens.  If you had fresh tomatoes in your box this week, you could use them instead of tinned. Make sure you use proper rustic bread, preferably a bit stale, otherwise it will just dissolve. Also, invest in a good, peppery Tuscan olive oil. Riverford do a good one.

Ribollita literally means re-boiled or re-cooked in Italian and is meant to be re-heated. It tastes even better the next day!

Ribollita

Ribollita
2 red onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
3 sticks celery, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Good Tuscan extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch ground fennel seeds
1 pinch dried red chilli
400 g good-quality tinned plum tomatoes
2 tins cannellini beans
300 g cavolo nero or chard, leaves, striped weight from the stalks
2 large handfuls good-quality sour-dough stale bread, torn into chunks
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Finely chop your onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Heat a saucepan with a splash of olive oil and add the vegetables to the pan with the ground fennel seeds and chilli. Sweat very slowly on a low heat with the lid just ajar for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes.

Add the beans with a little of the water from the tin and bring back to the boil. Shred your cavalo nero and chard and stir in to the soup (it will look like loads, but don’t worry as it will cook down.) Season well with sea salt and pepper. When the greens have cooked into the soup add the bread. The soup should be thick but not dry, so add a little more water if you need to loosen it. Add plenty of olive oil – you want to achieve a silky, thick soup. Check seasoning.

Chard

Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup

Finally, for this week I was wondering what to do with the left over fennel and celeriac I had from my slaw. I tried out a Roast Fennel and Celeriac Soup, to which I added lots of freshly chopped rosemary and a drizzle of white truffle oil and it made a very nice lunch.

Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup

Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup
Extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 clove garlic, peeled
2 medium celeriac, chopped into even sized chunks
1 medium bulb fennel, cleaned and trimmed and cut into wedges lengthways through the root
A few sprigs of rosemary, very finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100mls double cream
White truffle oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Toss the celeriac and fennel together with plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper and the rosemary and spared out on a roasting tray. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or so, checking from time to time, until golden brown. About half way through cooking time, add the whole garlic cloves.

Meanwhile, sweat the onion in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with some olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes until just beginning to caramelise. When the roast vegetables are ready, tip them in with the onions. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and simmer the vegetables for about 10 minutes until very tender. Puree with a hand-blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the cream. Serve with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Celeriac

Zuppa d’Aosta

So on to cabbage recipe two. This is one of the oddest soups ever. It comes from Aosta which is in Northern Italy, right up high in the Alps, so as you would expect it is very hearty soup and typically packed full of carbohydrates, bread and cheese. Like Fondu, Raclette or Tartiflette and other mountain recipes, it is affectionately known as rib-sticking, the dictionary definition being- to last long and fortify one well; [for food] to sustain one even in the coldest weather.

Obviously there is nothing strange about that, if you live in an extremely cold climate, which of course in London, we don’t. But what is a little extraordinary about this soup is that it is baked, and then what tips it over the edge of unusual recipes, is the combination of stale bread, loads and loads of cheese and cabbage along with anchovies! The anchovies act as an amazing sort of seasoning, which brings this whole soup into a world class of its own so don’t be tempted to leave them out.

Fontina

I first made Zuppa d’Aosta at the River Café and it even features in their first book. Jamie Oliver rewrites it by adding loads more ingredients including the quite nice, but I think unnecessary addition of bacon. Good, strong bread is essential – I used Gail’s Sourdough, the cheese – should strictly be Fontina d’Aosta but even I struggled to find this, having to make do with a Fontina from Alpeggio (which describes the region rather than the town), which I got from Ocado.  Another place to try, if you are in Wimbledon on a Saturday morning, is the wonderful Vallebona,  Please do go,  if you have not been, because you will find the most amazing selection of mainly Sardinian delights, in the most unlikely setting of an industrial car-park.

If, however you just can’t find any Fontina, another mountain cheese will do such as Gruyere, Emmental or Gouda. Strange or not, as the weather turns colder,  this soup is guaranteed to warm you up.

Zuppa D'Aosta in Bowl

Zuppa d`Aosta
1 savoy or other hearty cabbage, Cavalo Nero or Kale works too
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf stale sourdough or ciabatta bread
large garlic clove peeled and halved
10 anchovy fillets
250g Fontina cheese
2l chicken stock, can be made up from good quality stock cubes
100g parmesan freshly grated

You will need a casserole or saucepan that can be put in the oven.
Preheat the oven to moderate 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Remove the leaves from the cabbage heads one by one and cut out the thick stems from each leaf keeping the leaves whole. Use a mixture of the dark outer leaves and brighter green inner leaves. (The leaves are traditionally kept whole but you can roll them up and shred them, the advantage being that it makes the soup easier to eat.) Blanch the cabbage in boiling salted water for 1 minute then drain well. Cut the bread into slices on an angle to give them as much surface area as possible. Cut off any very tough exterior crusts. Toast the slices on both sides and rub with the garlic. Cut the anchovy fillets into slithers lengthways. Slice the Fontina into slivers. Bring the stock to the boil and season it.
In your casserole or pan make a first layer of cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Place 4 or 5 anchovy slithers evenly spaced on top, then a layer of Fontina followed by one third of the toasted bread. Sprinkle over some Parmesan and add stock to cover this layer. Make a second layer in the same way and then a third finishing with a top layer of bread, sprinkled with the last of the Parmesan. Make sure the stock just covers the top layer.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top.

zuppa d'aosta in bowl 2

Curried Parsnip Soup

Finally, for this week, one of my favourite soups at this time of year, a spicy, warming bowl of Curried Parsnip Soup. A 70’s dinner party starter classic for those who were foody, in the know and well-read enough to own Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, such as my mother. It seemed very modern at the time but it has stood the test of time and I have tweaked it just a little, removing the dated additions of cream and flour but to bring it bounding into the 21st century, I have added coconut milk and fresh coriander, probably scarcely available in those days.

Finally, I know it is more trendy to make up your own Marsalas now a days, but quite frankly when I am pushed for time, which is most of the time, I opt for a readymade blend. The trick is to buy little, often and if need be discard old spices which no longer pack a punch. Go for a good one. I used Dalesford Organic Powder which was packed with flavour, but pretty hot, so mind how you go.

curried parsnip soup 2

Curried Parsnip Soup
Serves 4
A good glug of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
450g parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tin coconut milk
1 bunch fresh coriander, washed and chopped, stalks too
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat add the olive oil and fry the onion in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, a good pinch of salt and some pepper and continue cooking for about another 20 minutes, stirring often to avoid catching. Add a little more oil if necessary. You want to cook the parsnip as long as possible to release their natural sugars and begin to caramelise. When you can break up the parsnips with a wooden spoon, add the garlic and curry powder and fry for a couple of minutes to release the flavours. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for about 10 minutes. Finally remove from the heat. add the whole bunch of coriander and puree with a liquidiser or hand blender. Stir in the coconut milk and heat through. Do not boil.Season with salt and pepper to taste.

parsnips

Mushroom Soup

I have been super busy this week with Riverford Lunches. This is when a customer hosts a lunch in their home, invites up to 10 friends, who they think would be the kind of people who may also be interested in getting a weekly Riverford veg box, and I come along and cook lunch. The idea is to inspire everyone with how good fresh, organic vegetables can be. Then everyone sits down to a three course lunch and I hopefully I sign up a few new Riverford customers.

Anyway, I managed to fit in three lunches this week but it did not leave me a huge amount of time for much else so I thought I would share with you some of the recipes that I have been cooking this week. I ordered a small veg box less roots which came with mushrooms, carrots, flat beans, leeks, a cauliflower and red Russian kale. Straight up I made the soup of this week’s menu, and it couldn’t be much easier or more seasonal than mushroom. You can add more to your base than I do, such as onions or celery if you have them to hand, but just to say, you don’t need to, just lots of mushrooms will do. You will need a couple of punnets.

Mushrooms in a punnet
I always wrap my thyme into a little bundle rather than chopping it or even more time consuming – removing all the tiny leaves. Tie it up well so no twigs escape. All the flavour will infuse whilst cooking and then all you have to do at the end is squeeze out all the remaining juices. Finally, don’t forget plenty of freshly ground black pepper. If your pepper grinder is not up to much, grind some up in a coffee grinder. I am very happy to have a big bowl of Mushroom Soup for dinner with nothing more than a chunk of good sourdough bread.

If you are interested in hosting a Riverford lunch then just let Simon know. We will be taking bookings soon for January 2016 onwards.

Mushrooms Soup

Mushroom Soup
Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main
Good glug of olive oil
800g mushrooms, (two large punnets) sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Small bunch fresh thyme, tied tightly into a little bundle
2 pints (1 litre) milk
250 mls cream (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Sweat the mushrooms and thyme bundle in the oil for about 30 minutes. All the liquid should cook away and the mushrooms will begin to fry. Add a little more olive oil is necessary. Cook until golden brown. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Pour over the milk and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the cream if using. Remove the thyme. Squeeze as much juice from it as possible. Blend in liquidizer of with a hand blender until smooth. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper. Adjust constancy with a little extra milk or water.

Mushroom

Celery Soup, Blue Cheese Crostini

This week I got a Small Veg Box Less Roots which had leeks, green cabbage, mixed salad leaves, avocados, celery and sweetcorn.

I have cooked a Riverford Lunch this week already and I have a SuperClub on Thursday so I thought I would test out a recipe I am serving at both. I think people forget about Celery Soup. I suppose it just sounds a bit dull. Celery is one of those vegetables that everyone throws into their stocks, stews and sauces but never rarely let’s steal the show. But I love its clean, fresh and savoury taste. It is important to sweat the celery down for a long time to intensify the flavour and let it caramelise a little. I always think with soups, that the initial cooking is the most important. All the flavour should be released at this stage and the boiling at the end when the liquid is added should be minimal. I love this soup with its pale green hue. It could almost be a Farrow and Ball Colour. I like It with the salty kick of the blue cheese crostini but some prefer some crispy bacon scattered on top instead or just a drizzle of olive oil. Give it a try!

Celery Soup

Celery Soup, Blue Cheese Crostini
Serves 4
2 heads celery (washed and chopped)

Small bunch of thyme, wrapped up  in string
Generous glug of good quality Olive Oil
2 Pints of Vegetable stock or just water will do
250mls double cream
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Blue Cheese
Crostini – cut thin slices of French bread and drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven until golden brown

Sweat the celery and thyme in the olive oil for about 30-40 minutes over a low heat until just about to brown. The secret of this recipe is really giving the celery time to cook slowly now and intensify its flavour but do not allow to burn. Add the stock or water. The celery should just be covered with liquid. Add a good pinch or two of salt and slowly boil for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cream. Remove the thyme bundle and squeeze out the juices. Liquidize or whiz with a hand blender. Do this thoroughly. You do not want it to be stringy. It should not be necessary to strain but if need be, then do. (If your celery looks very stringy when you start, you could lightly peel it before chopping.) Add a generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper and more salt if necessary, to taste. Serve with the blue cheese spread on the Crostini.

Celery

Sweetcorn Chowder with Red Spring Onions & Smoked Paprika

When I was a kid, sweetcorn was my absolute favourite, I loved in on the cob, I loved it straight out of a tin and crab and sweetcorn soup was always my first choice at a Chinese restaurant.

Then, many years later I went and worked in San Francisco for a few months at a restaurant called Chez Panisse. My favourite place to hang out during my rare time off was Fisherman’s Wharf, with its fantastic array of restaurants and shacks selling Clam Chowder served up in a hollowed out baby loaf of San Franciscan sour dough bread. Yum!

My version here uses sweetcorn instead and I have added a touch of smokiness with just a hint of smoked paprika but it is super delicious with a little smoked bacon or smoked haddock as well.

It really is one of the ultimate comfort dishes, more a meal than just a starter and in keeping with my quick and easy theme this week – super simple! I would love to bake a loaf of sourdough to serve it in, but that is not so quick and easy!

 

Sweet corn Chowder

Sweetcorn Chowder with Red Spring Onions & Smoked Paprika
Serves 2
2 stalk celery
1 medium onion
Olive oil
Fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
500 ml semi-skimmed milk
250g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into little cubes
3 spring onions
2 heads of sweetcorn, removed from the cob
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop your celery and onion. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and herbs and fry until the vegetables start to brown. Add the sweetcorn and season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes more. Pour in the milk, add the potato and bring to a boil, stirring the whole time so the soup doesn’t stick to the pot. Cook until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy – this will take around 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the ends off the spring onions and slice them thinly. When the potatoes are tender, check the seasoning and sprinkle with spring onions and smoked paprika and then serve.

Red Spring Onions