Archive for ‘Soups’

February 27, 2012

Soup again: a twist on vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

I found this gem of a recipe in the most unlikely location. As much as I love shopping for food,  I am not a big fan of supermarkets: I don’t like being in an overcrowded, artificially lighted environment for long, if I can avoid it.  They are convenient though, so a trip there now and again is almost inevitable. One of the most annoying features are those piles of products on offer, luring you into buying, buying, buying.

A ready-made soup from  the New Covent Garden Soup brand caught my eye: the flavour combinations looked quite inviting. I did not buy any however, for fear of being disappointed, once more, by a nice packaging and some clever marketing. I have not tried their soups to date, so I can’t judge their products. But when I stumbled upon a cookbook published by them, entirely devoted to soups, I could not resist having a good look at it. And indeed, although the editorial form is nothing short of irritating (no ingredients index, a “hand-written” font that is almost impossible to read on the dark green background), there are many recipes worth trying in this little book. I started by recreating the lentil, tomato and coriander soup that had caught my eye. It is a very simple soup, with no other ingredients than the named ones, plus a sautéed onion, a bit of cumin, coriander and pepper: it tastes rich and satisfying, it can be made with products probably already sitting in your pantry, and it comes together with five minutes’ active time.

February 16, 2012

The forgotten root soup

Winter roots soup

I had half forgotten about this soup. I do this kind of things all the time. I have a leaky memory, to say the least – this is why this blog is a life saver for me, at least for recipes. I’ve always wanted to keep a diary of the books I read, the movies I watch, sometimes even the people I meet. I forget who the killer is five minutes after the end of a thriller. I forget reading books altogether: I’ve often found myself reading half of a book, and at chapter twelve realizing that yes, I have indeed already read the whole thing. I just keep little drops of memory with me from books and movies – the colour of a dress, the face of a beautiful actress, a particularly funny character. I forget people I meet, I forget technical details of vital importance. I am always embarrassed when people ask me what my favourite book or  film is – if I’m lucky I remember the title, but don’t expect anything more than the knowledge that yes, I enjoyed that book immensely. This is why I have to be extra organised. I keep logs. I have lists.

I have a good memory for other random things. I remember number sequences really easily. I used to remember loads of poetry when I was in school, and I still do know some by heart. I remember where I’ve parked my car and where shops are and German grammar. Weird.

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November 16, 2011

Black Bean Soup

Black bean soup

This is not exactly the post I had in mind when I decided I had to share this soup with you. While living with my parents I was not cooking much at all,  and I was not cooking the type of food I crave daily. That food, after a few days of feasting on cheese, was essentially one: soup, loaded with vegetables, legumes, fibers, spices, herbs, chillies, hot, filling, easy to digest. I am addicted to that feeling of a warm and full, but not overloaded,  belly. I then decided that to celebrate the control I was going to regain in my kitchen and my life, I’d share a lot of soup recipes, whether from blogs, books, or my own fantasy. We all need more soup in our life.

So when I made this soup whose recipe I found in Smitten Kitchen, and it exactly what I had been craving for: hot, filling, spicy, comforting, great leftovers… I thought I finally was starting to get it. I had the first soup of a long series of soups to share.

August 1, 2011

La Jota

Jota

I think the best Italian food that never makes it abroad are the soups. I guess it must be because they don’t look glamorous enough to be included in Italian restaurants (and anyway, I still have to find an Italian restaurant abroad nearly as good as some restaurants in Italy), and they are that good because of difficult to source ingredients. If you have travelled in Tuscany and had a chance to eat any of the soups there, you know what I am talking about. They redefine the somewhat boring concept of soup: they rely on arrays of vegetables, herbs, heirloom pulses and grains, little bits of meat, and of course olive oil, to produce drop-dead-gorgeous flavours and textures. And it is not only Toscana of course, although my favourite ones are from there.

Last weekend I went to the local market with a fresh pair of eyes, determined to try something new. I have realized with a bit of a shock how lazy I have been in my food choices. I like carbs, vegetables and fruit. I’ve tried all the funny looking vegetables at the Vietnamese shop, always have at least three varieties of rice in my pantry, and have eaten all the types of organic, wood-oven bread they sell at the market. On the other hand, I don’t like meat, especially if I can’t identify what is in there, so I have left the huge selection of Wurst and Aufschnitt (cold cuts) largely unexplored. Also, I don’t like vinegary food very much, so no Gewuerzgurken (pickled cucumbers), Sauerkraut, and the endless ready-made salads on sale. But I know this is mainly laziness, cooking with what I’m comfortable with instead of pushing my boundaries a bit to discover new flavours.

May 19, 2011

As a starter a cappuccino, please

Asparagus cappuccino with cinnamon air

Would you start your dinner with a cappuccino? If you are Italian, of course you won’t even finish your dinner with a cappuccino, let alone have it as an amuse-bouche.

However, this is what I did tonight. And I can’t advise you strongly enough to do the same, asap.

It all started with a restaurant.

I have already told you about my favourite restaurant here. When I lived in Wales my favourite restaurant was exactly the opposite type: posh food, made only with local, seasonal  ingredients, run by local people, in a stunning location. The restaurant was renown to be among the ‘fine dining’ ones in the area, thus we waited quite a while before trying it: posh places ended up all too often in the same ol’ barely edible food and a double price tag.

When we did go there eventually, we were truly sorry for not having eaten there before. We were truly sorry for having previously wasted our money in other restaurants, posh or not. The dining room had just a few tables and was set in a stone cottage, immersed in an ”area of outstanding natural beauty”, in front of the ocean. Part of the charms was due to the cozy, homely atmosphere given by the huge stone fireplace in that tiny, dark room. We knew the food was different the moment we were served home-made bread of two types, both really good: finding good bread in Wales was harder than finding the Holy Grail. The menu was seasonal, local, well thought after, and cooked with skill . You see, eating out in Wales was an adrenaline sport: we tried a new place not much with the expectation of getting good food, but more with the hope of avoiding food poisoning. On the other hand, I have cooked some of my most amazing meals there: local produce was nothing short of stunning.

May 2, 2011

From Germany to Afghanistan: a few recipes

Afghan turkey and cauliflower stew

If I were to invite you out for dinner where I live, I would bring you to my favourite local restaurant, an Afghani restaurant.  Before eating there, I had no clue about Afghan food. Then one night – I think it was summer – for some reason our scheduled plan failed, we needed food, we did not feel like the same ol’kebab, and we decided to try this one, a bit randomly. I remembered driving past it while house hunting: the apartment we saw that night was the creepiest one ever, for the record, but it was worth going there just for noticing this place. ‘Kabul Restaurant’.

April 22, 2011

La pasta e fagioli

Pasta e fagioli

Mare o montagna?

“Seaside or mountains?”

A common conversation topic, from an era where cheap air travel was not available and exotic destinations were out of reach.

In Italy we are spoiled: we have a huge choice of breathtaking landscapes and touristic destinations, to suit any taste. Seaside or mountains was a serious question, more of a lifestyle choice than a mere preference. Both had renewed health advantages and sought-after entertainment options, both had shortfalls and limitations. I’m pretty sure that the famed Italian TG1 (the leading news on TV) still airs a couple of times every summer an innovative service over the advantages of spending your holidays in one place as opposed to the other. Year after year the same footage, the same phrases: I can see them neatly folded, ready to be taken out of the archives at the appropriate time, together with ‘the festivity diet’, ‘heat wave alarm’, ‘Arctic frost alarm’, ‘la Maturita’ this year’ (high school diploma), and ‘Internet will make your child sick’.   Reassuring, in a way.

December 12, 2010

Special effects

Celeriac soup with puffed rice

The other day, I was reading about  yet another fantastic dessert on David’s blog, and I was wondering if he ever published something with less than a million calories. Turns out he did: he had an intriguing recipe for celeriac soup. The idea grew in the backroom of my mind, and thanks to the fact that my fridge was almost empty, I ended up with a ‘let’s empty the fridge totally’ soup, which happened to be very good. It has a very complex flavour; if you don’t like slightly sour food I’d leave the apple out  (I just love the acidic touch though).

I finished it off with yet another special effect: a trick I stole from Pietro Leemann, puffed rice. It is very simple and effective, and works wonders with any cream-textured soup.

Celeriac and apple soup with puffed rice

Ingredients (makes about three portions)

2 leeks, trimmed

4 small floury potatoes

quarter of a celeriac root

1 apple, slightly sour (eg russet, possibly a cooking apple)

1  2cm x 2cm piece of smoked bacon or pancetta

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper (white, possibly)

a small handful of red camargue rice (also wild rice or black rice would work), uncooked (about 30gr)

1/2 tablespoon  vegetable oil

olive oil

smoked Maldon sea salt (optional)

Method:

Prepare the vegetables. Peel celeriac and potatoes and cut into 2×2 cm chunks. Trim leeks, cut in half lengthwise, clean under running water making sure you get rid of all the dirt between the leaves, and chop into 1 cm thick slices. Cube the pancetta. Heat a bit of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, add the pancetta cubes and let them release some of their fat, then add leeks and celeriac and brown slightly on a high heat. Add in the potatoes and apples cubes, a bay leaf, some salt and pepper. Stir well and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cook for about 20 minutes on low heat, until all the vegetables are tender, but don’t overcook. You can also cook this is a pressure cooker for five minutes, which is what I did. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the soft vegetables and pancetta using a hand blender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, and thin with a little water if it is too thick for your liking. Can be made ahead and reheated.

When you are nearly ready to serve, heat a heavy bottomed non stick pan over high heat. Add a splash of vegetable oil, the one you’d use for frying (I used groundnut). When it is very hot, but before it starts smoking, drop in a couple of rice grains. They should pop slightly open, like pop corn (they stay smaller though, they split more than popping). If they do, add the rest of the rice in the pot, cover and give it a good shake. Over the next five minutes the rice will pop and toast.  Shake the pan now and again and if you have the feeling that they are not popping, put it back on the fire. Be careful not to burn them though.

When most of the rice has popped, place the hot soup in bowls, dress with a generous tablespoon of popped rice,  drizzle with a bit of olive oil and scatter with smoked salt. If you are using good quality salt like eg Maldon, the flakes will stay whole over the oil, making a very nice effect, like cristals.

November 5, 2010

Squash, Autumn-Winter collection 2010

Sweetcorn, pepper and squash soup

This week is probably the most beautiful one here. The woods, which are dark and green and gloomy in summer, and dark and bare and gloomy in winter, turn into a festive array of yellow, red and green. They manage to bring a little joy to the overcast days.

I am no fan of autumn. I never understood its charms when living in Italy: to us it is just the rain season. It can rain for weeks, with no breaks (this is happening  right now in Italy. Looks like someone up there wants to wipe out all the dirt, which sounds like a good idea, actually; but the ones who get wiped away are never the right ones). In a place like the UK, where it rains most of the summer, autumn can be much sunnier than summer itself. It is a beautiful period. I still remember one poem by Emily Dickinson, which I happen to remember by heart: ‘The morns are meeker than they were.. ‘. I have good reasons for remembering it. When our English teacher made us analyse it for a test, the whole class, 30 reasonably well learned students, concluded it was about spring. How can you say something positive at all about autumn? Take 30 random Italian guys:  we won’t understand a thing about autumn charms. The poem is very clear, but we were all so sure no one could  speak about it in such terms, that we happily ignored all evidences.

With time, I have learned to appreciate this season’s subtleties. Every autumn I also rediscover squash, one of my favourite ingredients ever. The farmers market is bursting with beautiful squashes, but the famous butternut is not the best one around. The winner here is the small Hokkaido, bright orange, together with  a very dense and sweet one with a thick and dark green peel, not unlike Kabocha. Also pumpkins are quite flavourful.

I try new recipes when I am so inclined, but I like squash so much that every time I develop a series of simple go-to favourites, which are  what I cook most times, on a daily basis. I had years where most of the pumpkins would go in pasta (I love gratin pasta with savoy cabbage and pumpkin) or just  mashed with garlic or shallots and some herbs. This year I often go for soups and roasted squash.

August 15, 2010

Gazpacho quest

Roasted tomatoes
It is summer. Few food items are relegated to the hot weather for me. One of them is not ice cream. One of them is indeed gazpacho.

I fell in love with it on my first holiday in Madrid, Spain. I was so lucky to spend two whole weeks at a friend’s home with her family.  The most detailed memories I have (it was a long time ago.. ohmy. Don’t make me count the years) are of food: cold horchata  soon after arriving, which I did not like that much, but was great for recovering from the heat;  falling in love with the street food (my favourite ever: bocadillo de calamares, a crunchy baguette filled with fried squids); and starting every dinner with a glass of gazpacho, cold from the fridge. Sour, refreshing, nutritious, and as heavy as hell. This little beauty can include anything from raw garlic and onions, to a more than generous amount of vinegar and olive oil. And I am one of those who never had problems with raw peppers or cucumbers… Not that I disliked the final result, mind, and I actually tolerate raw flavours much more now than then.

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