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Summery gazpacho soup with Spanish ham and basil

Doesn’t food taste better when it looks pretty?  I certainly believe so.  I completely wrecked my fried egg the other day, had a complete tantrum about it and ended up literally flinging everything onto the plate – I was so mad about it looking crappy that I’m convinced I didn’t enjoy it as much.

Homemade gazpacho with Spanish ham

This homemade gazpacho is one of my favourite pretty looking dishes I’ve made in recent weeks – the colours are just so summery and inviting.  Plus it’s very tasty and with this current heat wave I could eat bowlfuls of this chilled soup.  There was some interest on my Instagram about the recipe for it, so here it is.

Summer gazpacho soup

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Minestrone soup with ravioli

Life is running along quickly and already I’m begining to feel like I’m behind with sharing what we’ve been up to lately and more details on our trip to France.  I spent last night at Aspen B&B in Herefordshire and ate what can only be described as the best breakfast ever – Rob and Sally who run the B&B and passionate about ‘real food’ and so the breakfast is exquisitely sourced and prepared, plus if you want to talk food then this is somewhere you should book a stay.

What I wanted to share is a delicious meal we cooked last week, a simple vegetable minestrone with ricotta filled ravioli.  We have followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Jamies Does… book which was lovely, but I had spotted this fancy sounding smoky minestrone with tortellini and basil pesto.

My way of cooking is often looking at an image of a plate of food, or reading a recipe, then making my version of it how I would like to make it.  So I never follow recipes like this very strictly.  We didn’t have bacon or pancetta in the house so I just skipped that, so really ours wasn’t a smoky minestrone, but it was damn delicious.

Minestrone soup with ravioli

I softened chopped onion and garlic, then added finely chopped celery, carrots and potato and let it cook a few minutes.  I also added some finely chopped red pepper that we had lying around in the fridge.  Next I added about a litre of stock (half homemade chicken stock we had left over and half organic Kallo veg stock), and about 5 or 6 vine tomatoes that I’d roughly chopped and a glug of passatta – this was instead of the tinned tomatoes.  I also omitted the chickpeas because I didn’t have any.

I brought this to the boil then let it simmer until the veg was pretty much tender.  I added two small finely chopped courgettes and gave it a few minutes, before adding the ricotta and spinach ravioli (bought I’m afraid, one day I’ll be able to claim I made it myself…oneday…) and some podded broad beans.  The final vegetable I added was finely sliced rainbow chard (rather than kale).

I seasoned with some salt (we are still using up a delicious pot of greyish salt brought back from France) to taste and ate mine with a large dollop of my favourite raw basil pesto.  Mr Rigg had his as it was.  The simplicity of ingredients seemed to create this incredibly delicate but flavourful taste – one of the best things I’ve made and eaten for a while.

Minestrone soup with raw basil pesto

Green soup with edible flowers

We have spent the last week away in the Perigord/Dordogne region of France and had a lovely time, eating lots of good food and visiting a market every day to buy ingredients – I’ll be sharing photos as soon as I can set aside some time to pull them together.

Green soup with edible flowers

Last night we had soup for dinner, which I don’t often think is ‘enough’ to make an evening meal, which is silly really because we always enjoy it and never go hungry.  I made up a soup, knowing that I wanted a big hit of green vegetables, so I gently fried a red onion, two small bulbs of fennel, a couple of garlic cloves and then added chopped courgette.

Green soup with edible flowers

Once this had cooked a little I added 1 litre of vegetable stock and simmered before adding some peas.  Finally I added shredded spring greens and mint from the garden, then blitzed the whole thing before it went from that vibrant green to sludgy green.  We ate it sprinkled with a little finely sliced mint, a blob of herby garlic cheese and decorated with some edible flowers, and a sliced of toasted homemade bread drizzled with olive oil.

I am really enjoying our meat-free month and not really finding it a challenge so far – it’s really great to be trying out a lot of recipes that I would usually not cook because we seem to default to others.  The only downside was this evening realising that we couldn’t eat fish and chips at the pub – I was pretty gutted.

Monday 16th January

Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup

Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup from the Riverford Cookbook.  Pumpkin and tomato soup with a hint of chilli, topped with crumbled tortilla chips, avocado chunks tossed in lime juice, grated Jarlesburg, and coriander.

Utterly, utterly amazing.  It’s always those dishes that you want to like, but don’t think you really will, maybe because it contains an ingredient you don’t think you like, and WHAM –  so delicious!  If there’s one recipe so far I would recommend you make, it would be this one.

Tuesday 17th January

Mushroom Risioniotto

Mushrooms, creme fraiche and pasta.  This is Hugh’s mushroom risioniotto…at least I think that’s what it’s called.  He does make up some odd names.  It’s basically tiny pasta that looks like rice, I love it, it’s very comforting and moreish – probably because you can eat big mouthfuls of it along with some rich sauce.  The mushrooms were simply fried in butter until they start to go golden, then some wine and creme fraiche stirred through to make a sauce.  I miss calculated the amount of mushrooms and did half the recipe…turns out it was only for 2 people so I definitely won’t mess this up next time, as it did need more mushrooms.

Wednesday 18th January

Roasted tomato mozzarella risotto

Roasted tomato and mozzarella risotto.  Another from Hugh’s trust Everyday Veg book, and one that we had been cooking regularly before we even considered doing a meat-free month.  Yes, perhaps eating tomatoes in January isn’t the most seasonal choice, but my body was craving it and they were bought from Unicorn Grocery in Manchester so not as bad a supermarket tomatoes.

Hugh’s recipe uses a roasted tomato sauce that he also provides a separate recipe for – I just sliced a whole load of plum tomatoes in half and roasted them in the oven with olive oil, sliced garlic and herbs until they were soft and gooey.  I think pop the whole lot through my mouli, a carboot bargain that I couldn’t now live without.  If the Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup was my top recommended recipe, the mouli would be my top recommended piece of kitchen kit.

Tonight we tried one of Hugh’s latest recipes – his version of pot noodle with spicy chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds. 

It’s really simple.  In a bowl you pop dried egg noodles, chopped chorizo, sliced spring onions and crushed fennel seeds.  To make this less pot noodle lunchtime snack and more dinner for two, I lightly fried the chorizo and crushed fennel seeds, and half the spring onions.  Just to soften them a little.

The recipe then tells you to pour enough boiling water over the noodles, and stir in tomato passata that has been well seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then you leave it for 5-6 minutes.  We did this, but found that the noodles didn’t quite cook enough and the sauce was lukewarm by the time we came to eat it.

So we transferred everything to a pan and heated it up.  I added a good-sized spoonful of sundried tomato paste which gave a depth of flavour.  Lastly we stirred through some chopped flat leaf parsley from the garden.

All in all it was a pretty tasty and good dinner with a few little tweaks – really a delicious bowl of soupy noodles, spicy with chorizo and fragrant with fennel.

Spanish style chorizo and spring onion noodles

Feeds 2

2 nests of egg noodles
60g chorizo
8 spring onions
200ml tomato passata
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
salt and pepper
handful of parsley or basil

Chop up the chorizo and spring onions, and crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar.

Heat up a small frying pan and gently fry the chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds for a few minutes.

Mix together the tomato passata, sundried tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a pan, place the egg noodles, chorizo, spring onions, fennel seeds and tomato passata.  Pour over just enough boiling water to cover.  Put over a medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is hot and the noodles are cooked.

Stir through some chopped parsley or basil and eat.

Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall – a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham.  I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited.  The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple. 

The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail. 

They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860’s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties. 

But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden.  Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.

Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden.  There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes).  Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!

Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.

How cool is that?! 

After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom. 

In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?

What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course).  I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake!  All sweet.

In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire.  The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!

What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall. 

If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.

*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!

So this is the first of my Food Finds posts, the one that inspired me to start them.  I will try and post one every Monday along with a fabulous recipe from the blog of choice.

On my search for strawberry jam recipes I came across a lovely blog called Nami-Nami.  It’s written by Estonian and there are some delightful recipes that I’ve just never come across or heard of before.  I love discovering food and dishes that are particular to a specific place or town or region or country.

It was a recipe posted here for Danish buttermilk soup that inspired me to start sharing my food finds. 

To me that picture just makes me want to eat it all up, without even really knowing what’s in it.  I might try it with some of my homemade granola.  If like me, you’d like to ‘eat it all up’ and want to know how to make it, the recipe is here.

Image: Nami-Nami

I’m busy getting lost in this great blog from Masterchef finalist Alex and have put his tomato and fennel soup on my list of ‘must cook’.

Meanwhile, we are majoring on spring stew – a meal of my own invention – pearl barley, pancetta and a host of vegetables.  Served for friends on Friday night with poached chicken.  Yum.

hearty tomato, lemon and lentil soup

hearty tomato, lemon and lentil soup

This recipe should be tried by all – it’s delicious.  A fantastic winter soup that will bring a little ray of summer sunshine into these cold and dismal days.  It bursts with rich tomato and zingy lemon, but with deep earthy lentils and hearty pasta twirls.  And what’s more, it is made from store cupboard staples.  We ate large bowlfuls with grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of torn parsley.  For lunch the next day I finished up the leftovers with a pile of sunflower sprouts and a drizzle of oil.

Tomato, Lemon and Lentil Soup

Serves 2
(this is what the recipe says, but really it’s two large bowlfuls and one for lunch the next day)

1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
400g tin plum tomatoes
60g red lentils
900ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable stock
75g fusilli
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Delicious garnishes: torn flat leaf parsley or sunflower sprouts

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and gentle fry the onion, garlic and carrot until soft.

Add the tinned tomatoes and break up a bit. Add the red lentils and stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender.

While the soup is simmering, cook the pasta in a separate pan. This is really important – the first time I made this soup I thought I would save on washing up and bunged the dry pasta in with the soup to cook. The soup turned out more like a stew as the pasta absorbed too much of the cooking liquid.

When the soup has had its 30 minutes, use a hand blended to blitz it up a little bit so that it is a mixture or smooth and coarse textures. Add the pasta and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Make sure you taste the soup and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper until the soup bursts with flavour in your mouth.

Serve in warm bowls with plain or with a garnish of your choice.

soup with sunflower sprouts

soup with sunflower sprouts

This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from Family Food by Silvana Franco.

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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