White beans and chorizo

This ensued after buying San José smoked fresh chorizo at the Central Market last week.

Ingredients

  • two onions, peeled and diced
  • smoked fresh chorizo skinned and chopped
  • ghee for frying
  • white beans – I used two tins of cannellini
  • garlic finely chopped
  • tomato paste
  • half a bunch of spinach, chopped fairly finely
  • a cheddar that melts nicely, grated

Method

Fry the onions until softening, add the garlic and stir a few times without burning,  add the chorizo and fry until it’s getting brown and the onions are fairly soft. Add drained and rinsed beans or dry beans you have cooked yourself. Add water and tomato paste at some point, bring to the boil and then put on a very low simmer for a couple of hours.

Sit overnight. Next day when serving add spinach while the spaghetti is boiling. After stirring the cooked pasta through the sauce, mix in cheese. This is a soupy stew you could serve with ciabatta, but we had it as a spaghetti sauce with parmesan on top.

A couple of bunches of parsley instead of spinach would be good. I had initially meant to cook it with celery, but forgot to buy any, but I could imagine trying that too.

Wherein meat is eaten.

Stay off the stuff for long enough and even Manor mince tastes mmmmmm. It’s been a couple of weeks since we had anything remotely resembling meat, of any colour, I might add.

For years I’ve stuck to the Italian way of doing spag bol, think cream and chicken liver as distinguishing features, along with minimal tomato. And although I love chicken livers, and the authenticity of Margaret Fulton, I’ve never been altogether happy with the result.

It was a revelation to me to discover that the American version is actually worthy of cooking and couldn’t be more different from my notion of the traditional version. This is the famous Italian-American cook Lidia’s version.

Spaghetti bolognese

Ingredients

olive oil for frying
an onion finely chopped
a carrot grated
a stick of celery and leaves finely chopped
glass of red wine
1/2 kg beef mince
1/2 kg pork mince
1 tblesp tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes
3 bay leaves
water as necessary

Method

On med-high heat, fry the onion, carrot and celery until onion is softened. Add the meats and fry, stirring constantly to avoid lumps, for about 10 minutes until browned. Throw in the wine, bring to the boil and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomato paste, stir in thoroughly, and then the tomatoes. Add a reasonably generous quantity of water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and leave on a lively simmer covered. You are going to cook it at this temperature for at least several hours. The longer the better. Six hours is better. Because it’s actually bubbling away, it means that you do need to check it from time to time to add water as required.

Yum. This is really good, just some parmesan on top to serve. True it takes a while on the way in, but on the way out you have, for two people, four meals ready at the push of a defrost button. And most of the cooking time, you are reading or knitting or doing Goodreads or….whatever your idle preference is.

Part of a minestrone

I guess sometimes soup can just be…pot luck. Under the misapprehension recently that winter had started, I assembled a group of ingredients for an affair I call minestrone, though I make no particular claims to a rigorous use of that name, only to discover that I had neither carrots nor celery, both of which I would have thought to be essential to the cause. And yet, the soup that resulted from their absence – I decided to soldier on with what I had – was a revelation in sweetness and taste that makes me wonder. Surely carrot isn’t the culprit that would stop this wonderful taste from developing in my usual minestrone – it is sweet, after all. That leaves celery to take all the blame. I have no idea if this has any merit as an idea. All I know is that the following looked quite dull and drab in the bowl, but this was completely belied by the taste.

Ingredients
a couple of onions, peeled and diced
leeks peeled, washed, and white parts sliced – I used about six.
garlic?
several slices of bacon or some such, diced – GOOD QUALITY
a big bag of fresh berlotti bean. Shell.
green beans, washed topped, tailed, diced.
several large FANTASTIC tomatoes, washed and diced. Don’t need to peel.
olive oil
water
salt and pepper at the end, to taste.

Method
No more than this: gently fry the onions in the olive oil, add the bacon and leeks after the onions have softened a little. To tell the truth, I can’t recall whether I added garlic or not. After the lot has softened some more, add maybe 6 cups of water, the beans, the borlottis and the diced tomatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours.

That’s it. Unprepossessing indeed, but delicious.

Celery soup, dare I say a la Simon Hopkinson?

It’s dreary outside and in, with little more than a bunch of celery – tired looking at that – in the fridge. But let’s see…

Take a roomy pot, sweat an onion in a generous quantity of butter. When softened add a bunch of chopped celery, leaves too. Stir and continue to cook gently for a while and then add water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for half an hour or so. Puree.

Meanwhile you have made Simon Hopkinson’s ‘curry essence’ as he calls it.

Very gently fry finely chopped onion, maybe 50g or so, in oil not butter or ghee as you don’t want it to solidify after cooking. I used grapeseed oil. Add 2 heaped teaspoons of good curry powder, I use Julie Sahni’s Master Curry Powder and fry very gently, you don’t want this to burn. Add a heaped teasp of tomato puree, stir a minute to mix and then add bay leaf, 150ml red wine, 120ml water, 2 tblesps mango chutney or apricot jam. Bring this to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. Hopkinson now suggests putting it through a fine sieve, I don’t see any need for this, maybe it depends on one’s next intention….not to mention if you have a fine sieve. I don’t. It keeps in a jar for a few weeks and he suggests adding it to a salad dressing as well as an egg dish.

Now add this to the celery soup, maybe a couple of tablespoons, but obviously to taste. Salt and pepper. Cream if you wish – I did.

We had this with toast on which we lavished Gentleman’s Relish from Fortnum and Mason’s. I don’t know why they say to use it sparingly, having finished a jar over two sittings. Manny suggested it was to make you feel like it wasn’t so expensive. Cunning!

Chicken in pomegranate and walnut

I can’t stop making this, it is too easy and tastes divine.

Turkish chicken in pomegranate and walnuts

Ingredients

3 pomegranates: extract juice from all but one half. From this you take the seeds for garnish at the end.
1 chicken cut into casserole pieces (or pieces of your preference, I would never use breast in a dish like this)
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 cup of walnuts, crushed
ghee
2 teasp ground cinammon
1 teasp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
a few leaves of mint shredded for garnish
juice of one lemon

Method

Mix the pomegranate juice with the lemon juice.

Fry the onion in ghee until it picks up a bit of colour. Add the chicken and brown lightly. Add the cinammon and sugar, mix and add the juice of pomegranate and lemon. Bring to boil and then turn down to a simmer until cooked.

At some point toast the crushed walnuts in a frying pan (without burning). Add them to the chicken maybe ten minutes before serving.

Serve garnished with mint and the pomegranate seeds you set aside. A plain pilaff is perfect on the side, though I imagine mash would also work.

Fennel soup

Fennel soup, more or less as Simon Hopkinson has it in The Vegetarian Option

Much my favourite way to eat fennel.

The butter

Ingredients

The soup:
2 medium onions chopped
350g fennel, trimmed and chopped
1 medium potato chopped
1 teasp fennel seeds
2 tblesp olive oil
salt and pepper
stock as you prefer in the quantity of 3/4 to 1 litre.

The butter:
Into 250g of softened butter mix a bunch of parsley, quite a lot of finely chopped (mashed?) garlic, a splash of Pernod or something else aniseed flavoured, I used Pastis, salt, pepper, cayenne to taste, a few drops of Tabasco. Roll it into a cylinder on waxed paper. This is a vast amount, so what you don’t use now, (by cutting off discs of it) store in the waxed paper, with a roll of alfoil tightly fitting around that, in the freezer.

Method

Soften onions in a large saucepan over medium or maybe even low heat – they are not to brown, of course. Always be patient with onions. Cooking them more quickly than one is supposed to, will always change the nature of the result. It might take 20 minutes. Then add the fennel and its seeds, and stir occasionally over another ten minutes. The potato can go in now with the stock, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, simmer until soft, maybe half an hour.

This is where I part company with Hopkinson. In that very English way, he now extremely finely sieves the soup and then adds cream. I do love cream, and I never try to avoid it, but this is already a lovely dish by simply pureeing, reheating and serving with a disc of butter in each bowl. Serve with buttered toast.

Fennel soup with garlic butter

The aroma, as you swish that butter around the soup and it gently blends in, is as inviting as I can imagine a bowl of soup to be.

Afterthought: it will surely be obvious what else one can do with the butter. I am dying to try it on a plain grilled steak; it would be perfect in fish soup. I wonder what it would be like thinly sliced and tucked into the middle of an omelette. Tres bon, non?

The Princess’s Pea and Ham Soup

Once upon a time there was a princess who loved peas so much she kept one in her bed. I cannot tell you how excited she was when she found out that she could put it in her mouth too…

I’ve been sitting here for about a week trying to figure out how to make Pea and Ham Soup sexy and it isn’t easy. I hope you appreciate the start of this. It’s the best I could come up with.

Some things are so honestly, straight-forwardly good they just don’t need sexing up, maybe that’s the answer. And if there are such things, this is one of them, the best version of this I’ve ever tried.

Pea and ham soup


Ingredients

1 smoked ham hock. Go to the trouble of getting a good one, there is a vast difference in quality from one to another.
Bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf
Quite a lot of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium-sliced onion, thinly sliced
a garlic clove or two finely chopped or crushed
carrot, perhaps one large or two small, peeled and finely sliced
1 cup of split peas. My recipe from The Best of Supercook Soups and Stews tells me they should be soaked overnight, but I don’t see any need for this. Both yellow and green work well.

Method

In a stock pot with a couple of litres of water, put in the ham hock, bouquet garni and black pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer for a couple of hours. The meat should be falling off the bone. By the way, if it is large, ask the butcher to cut the hock into a couple of pieces. I think the bone will impart more flavour that way.

Remove pan from the heat, take out the ham hock.

In a separate pan melt the butter over moderate heat and add onion, garlic and carrots, stirring for five or more minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. DO NOT BROWN!! Add the peas and stir for 5 or so minutes. Unite them with the ham hock liquid and bring to the boil again. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for a couple of hours. The peas should be very soft. Cool for a few minutes and then puree as you please. With a stick bamix in my case. Add more water if too thick. If too thin, reduce by leaving lid off and simmering.

Cut the meat into fine pieces and return to the pot. When everything is well-heated but not boiling, serve.

Need I add: lots of toast, generously buttered on the side?

Pea and ham soup with French nut bread.

If you are looking for a prince, surely you will get him with this.

Freeze in portions for ready microwaving at a later date.