Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Green Soup or Zuppe Verdi?

What's in a name? Green Soup or Zuppe Verdi? Really, I felt the latter was a bit pretentious, especially as this soup isn't traditionally Italian - so plain old Green Soup it is, even though I have to say that the name doesn't reflect at all how good this soup is. .

Green Soup

Green Soup

Green soup packs a punch, nutritionally speaking, but it’s also delicious, elegant and super simple to prepare.
A hint of chilli and lemon zest lifts the flavour; and the small amount of cream cheese and the avocado bring it all together.
Freezes well.
Serves 6

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 litre unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups frozen or fresh, shelled peas
1½ tsp salt or to taste & ½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
180g chopped spinach leaves or 100g thawed, squeezed & chopped
1 medium avocado, peeled, stoned & chopped
1 Tbsp basil pesto or ¼ cup fresh chopped basil leaves
¼ cup cream cheese, chopped (50g)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon plus extra for garnish
Leaf tip of basil and finely sliced red chilli (optional)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over a low-medium heat. Sauté the onion until softened, then stir in the chilli and garlic and sauté a few minutes more.
Turn the heat to medium high, pour in the stock and the peas, salt and pepper and bring to simmer point. Stir in the spinach and simmer three-four minutes.
Transfer to a processor with the avocado, pesto or basil, cream cheese and zest. Puree very thoroughly to ensure the cream cheese is well blended into the mix. This may have to be done in two steps.
Return the pureed soup to the original saucepan and reheat to serve in warm bowls accompanied by hot crusty ciabatta or quesadilla .

Garnish with lemon zest ‘threads’, a leaf tip of basil and some finely sliced red chilli.

Strawberry Custard Shortcake

At last we're getting sun-ripened strawberries with flavour. This lovely shortcake is perfect for something a bit different to make with the berries, and of course you could use raspberries too, when they come available. Thanks to Sue Carruthers-Brown for the original recipe so many years ago. . .

Strawberry Custard Shortcake

Pastry – use bought sweet short pastry, or make your own:
100g cold butter, diced
2 Tbsp caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla paste
1 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

Lightly oil or grease a 20cm spring form cake or flan tin.
Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the egg and pulse again to mix. If needed, add about a tablespoon of chilled water to form a ball, but this shouldn’t be necessary. Divide into almost equal halves – one half has to be slightly larger, as the pastry has to extend about 3 cm up the sides of the cake or flan tin. Wrap each half in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out the larger half to fit the tin and rise about 3cm up the sides.
Roll out the second half of the dough for the top.
Keep chilled until ready to bake.
Pre heat oven to 190 C.

1 punnet fresh strawberries, hulled (450-500g) – slice half for the filling but set aside the remainder for decoration
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp water
1 cup cream or UHT lite cream
2 Tbsp custard powder
1 Tbsp cornflour
½ cup milk
2 tsp strawberry jam
1 Tbsp caster sugar

Place the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan. Cook over a gentle heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring only once or twice  - if over stirred the mixture may crystallize, in which case the only remedy is to start again or use a stick blender.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
Mix the custard powder with the milk until smooth, and add slowly to the syrup and cream, stirring constantly.
Return the saucepan to a gentle heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth.
Cool for 15 minutes.
Stir in the jam and the half punnet of sliced strawberries. Pour the custard into the prepared base and top with the second round of dough, pinching the edges together.
Sprinkle the top with the caster sugar and bake at 190 C for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
Let the shortcake cool slightly in the tin before turning out.
Serve warm, garnished with the remaining strawberries whole or sliced

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Eggplant, Zucchini & Bean Salad - by request

Ros contacted me on my foodwriter facebook page to request this recipes from "Vital". It's in the 'Vegetables, Salads and Sides' section and although it's probably more of a summer salad, of course it's good any time of year. I particularly like the combination of both flavour and texture in this salad, plus it's very attractive visually.
This photo, by the wonderful Carolyn Robertson, was chosen by the publishers as the cover photo for the book. .

Eggplant, Zucchini & Bean Salad

This attractive, fresh tasting salad is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate, and is a delicious accompaniment for polenta dishes or almost anything else you can think of.
Serves 4-6.
Not suitable for freezing.

1 eggplant (450-500g)
450-500g zucchini
Salt & pepper to taste
1x 400g tin cannellini beans (or chickpeas)
½ packed cup roughly torn or chopped mint leaves
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
¼ cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley leaves

Pre heat oven to 190 C.
Slice the eggplant into 1cm rounds. Brush both sides with neutral oil or dip into a bowl of oil and wipe off any excess on the lip of the bowl. Place the slices on an oven tray in a single layer. Bake at 190 for about 25 minutes, until golden brown on both sides. Turn once during cooking. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and slice the rounds in half.
Slice the zucchini with a potato peeler into long ribbons.  Toss in neutral oil to coat lightly and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread onto a baking tray and bake 5-7 minutes at 190 C or until just cooked through, tossing once or twice.  Remove from the hot tray to prevent further cooking and preserve colour.
Place the rinsed and drained beans in a large bowl and toss with the mint, lemon zest and juice.
Gently combine the beans with the roasted eggplant and zucchini, season to taste, and add a little more lemon and mint if wished. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the parsley.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Figs to Die For

                                              Spiced Figs in Brandy

Today I found a forgotten jar of spiced figs in brandy, made two years ago when we were shooting photos for my 'Relish' book on relishes and chutneys (and more). They're always seriously good, even after only a month or two, but these - well these are to die for.
My own figs aren't quite ready to eat yet, but after tasting these I rushed down to the shops and bought 3 kilos (the recipe requires 1 kilo) and a bottle of brandy. Not that the recipe contains a lot of brandy, just a third of a cup plus an extra slosh if you're me). Hopefully I can secrete at least a couple of jars away to mature. .

                    Spiced Figs in Brandy           

Creamy blue cheese was made to enjoy with a slice of brandied fig; add a glass of port for that perfect finale to a special meal.
Makes 3 jars.

1 kg fresh figs
250ml (1 cup) red wine
6 cardmom pods
1x 10cm cinnamon stick
2 tsp sumac*
2 star anise
15 cloves
375g sugar (1 ¾ cups)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
                   or balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup brandy

Spear each fig 2-3 times with a fine skewer.
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to simmer point over a low heat. Simmer gently for 1 hour.
Stir in the brandy and bring back to simmer point – this will only take about one minute.
Pack the figs loosely into hot, sterilized jars and fill with the hot syrup. Screw on hot, sterilized metal lids.
Leave for at least two weeks, preferably a month or more.
*A spice made from the berries of the Mediterranean sumac bush. The spice has a rich red/brown colour and has a refreshing fruity tart flavour reminiscent of lemon.