Monday, July 23, 2012

Pineapple and mint + pine nuts and honey

  • Prepare your spikey monster. (If you don't have one, get a pineapple and prepare that.) Reserve a little for the garnish.
  • Whiz it with a little water, some mint and a little honey if you wish.
  • Gently toast some pine nuts in a dry pan, then mix with some diced pineapple.
  • Serve with your chilled soup and drizzle with honey.

What did it taste like? Sweeet. The occasional nutty bite was a delight against the honey.

  1. To prepare your pineapple: Behead and bebottom it. Stand it on its bare bottom. Use a big knife to cut from the top down in slight curves to remove the skin and eyes. The trick is to not get upset about losing a bit of fruit. This way you will cut out all the eyes successfully - don't worry, they are not real eyes and there will be plenty of flesh left for your soup. Chuck away the skin (why does this tip sound so bodily?), cut it in half and then quarters, lengthways across the core, then, keeping each quarter standing up, cut the triangle of core off and send it packing.
  2. Watch your pine nuts while they toast. They have a habit of going from pale yellow to black-as-the-night as soon as you look away.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chilled avocado + bacon and mangetout crunch

Per person:
  • Whiz half a shallot, the juice of half a lemon and an avocado. Use more lemon/shallot if the planets are suitably aligned.
  • Add salt, half an optional small green chili and as much coriander as you have/feel like.
  • Pour in 250ml of the delicious vegetable stock you made for last week's minestrone.
  • Chop some raw mangetout and mix with some smoked crispy bacon.
  • Serve the soup chilled, with your crunch mixture. Hoorah!

What did it taste like? Guacamole! The addition of the crunch-mix adds essential texture so as not to feel like one is eating puréed dip (not that this should be at all frowned upon). Silky and delicious, with a very subtle spiciness. Heavenly combination.

  1. Cut your mangetout once lengthways, then chop into little pieces. 
  2. I used allumettes which are ready cut slivers of bacon, but you could use rashers then break them up after - this would increase the crunch-factor.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Minestrone

  • Think about the wonder of vegetables.

Minestrone is a soup of seasonal vegetables usually with pasta or rice, so choose what you want to put in it and chop the veggies beforehand.
  • Start with onions and garlic on a gentle heat. I don't know why they always get to go first but they do, so just humour them, ok?
  • Once they've softened, add hard vegetables like celery and carrots. Then let in things like courgettes.
  • Once you've got a bit of a sizzle going, add your homemade stock.
  • Keep it going for at least half an hour, seasoning and tasting as you go.
  • When you're happy with the flavour add the vegetables that don't take much cooking, like asparagus, peas and beans, then introduce some cooked pasta or rice and perhaps some fresh basil.
  • Douse your dish with olive oil and Parmesan, and dunk in fresh bread.

Optional extra: Cut batons of day-old bread and coat with parsley, dried herbs, olive oil and salt. Bake in the oven at 200°C for about ten minutes, shaking/turning as necessary. You could also add some grated Parmesan into the mix. I didn't because my dinner guest is somewhat averse to cheese.

What did it taste like? Fresh and wholesome; the Parmesan adding essential frolics to this super-healthy dish. It was actually better the day after, once the flavours had developed more. I was initially afraid of overcooking the more delicate vegetables but on gentle reheating, I was really happy with the result; the asparagus et al graciously kept their crunch.

PS The fresh parsley on the breadsticks went delightfully crispy.

  1. You can add pancetta at the start of cooking to get more flavour. I didn't because I was interested in the depth of flavour I could obtain with vegetables only. 
  2. A Parmesan rind in the soup will also deepen flavour. Remove it before serving and don't tell your dinner guest if, like mine, he is anti-cheese.
  3. The vegetables in my soup, in order of appearance/addition to the pot, were: carrots, leeks, swiss chard (stalks), courgettes. The stock went in at this point, then when it was nearly ready I added asparagus, swiss chard (greens), broad beans, kidney beans and fresh peas.
  4. If using canned beans, give them a good rinse before adding. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Caesar Soup

  • Soften an onion in some olive oil. Then add chopped lettuce. I used three little gems as I couldn't find Romaine.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper then add a little water.
  • Once the greens have wilted, whizz with Parmesan and half the juice of a lemon.
  • Heat olive oil on a very gentle heat with fat slices of garlic and a couple of anchovies.
  • Once the anchovies have melted down into the oil (you must be patient) remove the garlic slices and turn up the heat (don't worry if the anchovy doesn't completely melt - it is a fish after all).
  • Chuck some cubes of bread into the pan and shake it like a polaroid picture.
  • Serve the soup with more Parmesan, the croûtons, and a drizzle of the garlic/anchovy oil.

What did it taste like? Yum! It had all the right flavours, but it did however lack the creaminess of a Ceasar salad - something which could be remedied with some sort of dressing on the top instead of the oil. I would also like to try it as an unwhizzed broth. To be experimented...

  1. Too-fresh bread is difficult to cut into cubes. Better if it's a bit old. I managed with fresh baguette though, so it's not the end of the world if you have to buy it on the day.
  2. I made too much oil, so removed some before getting the bread in. 
  3. Check your oil is hot enough for the croûtons by chucking in one or two cubes to test.
  4. Don't take photos of your soup - croûtons are not very patient and become soggy during photoshoots. If you insist on taking photos, use professsional croûtons or make an abundance of amateur ones as back-up

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chilled red pepper + potato croûtons

  • Simmer half an onion and a glove of garlic in some veggie stock for five minutes.
  • Whizz them with two red peppers, two tomatoes, some of the stock, salt, olive oil and lemon
  • Chill.
  • Parboil some cubed potato, drain then fry in olive oil and/or butter til super crispy. Season.
  • Serve together and if you want, make silly patterns with a little yoghurt.

What did it taste like? Sweet and delicious and full of red-pepper punch.

Tip: I simmered the onion and garlic to take the edge off their raw flavours - you don't have to if you are happy to disobey me.