Monday, 8 February 2016

Good old Minestrone Soup

The winter storms are rolling and rolling across my increasingly sodden and wind lashed world.  In desperation, I turned to the Mediterranean for comfort, and to remind me that once there was a less harsh world!  By stroke of luck, I found a beautiful big bulb of fennel while I was grocery shopping which led to this lovely recipe.  As with all my recipes, this isn’t cast in stone – use what you have and leave out what you don’t!

For four good serves I used :

1 cup of chopped onion

1 bulb of fennel, diced

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

½ medium swede (approximately one cup) (rutabaga)

2 finely chopped cloves of garlic

A good handful of chopped green beans (frozen works as well as fresh)

1 400g tin of Italian tomatoes

1 pint of vegetable stock (use Knorr stock pots if you can find them)

2tsp caraway seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup soup pasta (or broken macaroni, spaghetti etc)

Preparation is simple – peel and chop the onion and sauté in a little olive oil while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.  After about 10 minutes, add the garlic, fennel, celery, carrot and swede and sweat together for 10 more minutes.  Add the tin of tomatoes and the stock and give it all a good stir.  Season to taste and add the caraway seeds.  Give the soup 20 minutes simmering – until the vegetables are tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (you might need several tastings, I did!) then add the soup pasta and cook for 10 more minutes.

Serve with lovely crusty bread, or slices of parmesan toast (toast a few slices of crusty bread, sprinkle with grated parmesan and grill until crispy and golden).

I apologise for the quality of photographs, the real ones are stuck on my SD card as my computer won’t recognise it!  I’ll update the blog post as soon as I can with the real ones!

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to my lovely Dad, who loved a good soup.  I wish I could have shared it with him.

Barefoot in Bologna

This is another one of my favourite cheat sauces.  Glorious Barefoot in Bologna, a really tasty sausage ragu.  I often use it as a sauce with good chilled ravioli or tortellini.  

You simply need to thin out the tub of ragu with a little chicken stock and season with a little salt and pepper to taste, quickly cook the pasta parcels and then arrange in a dish before adding the sauce.  Add a good snowfall of grated cheese (parmesan mixed with cheddar is my favourite) over the top before popping into a hot oven for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and hot through.  This is a lovely, quick after-work dinner for next to no effort.

Cheat Ingredient : Cheese Sauce

Cheating is all about knowing which corners to cut, and which packets and tins to buy.  If it’s good enough for Delia, it’s good enough for me!

This is one of my favourite cheat ingredients, and this particular brand one of the better ones.  To be truthful, I haven’t made a cheese sauce in more years than I care to remember, not since these tubs of good cheese sauce hit the shelves in the 90’s!

Cheese sauce is a particularly useful ingredient.  I always use it to top lasagne; when you’ve spent an hour making the meat sauce, making a cheese sauce can be enough to tip you over the edge!  This is the shortcut to make.  No-cook pasta sheets are another handy shortcut.  Back in the day I’d have one pan going to make the meat sauce, another cooking lasagne sheets and a third for the cheese sauce.  By the time I’d done all the washing up I often couldn’t face eating it!

Cauliflower cheese is a favourite, and with a tub of cheese sauce it’s next to no work at all.  I cook the cauliflower (and often broccoli for a bit of colour) briefly before decanting into an ovenproof dish, topping with the cheese sauce and some extra grated cheddar and finally popping it into a hot oven to finish.

A tub of cheese sauce can also make very short work of mac and cheese, especially if you have some leftover bacon or cooked ham hanging around.  Then it’s nothing more than a matter of thinning out the cheese sauce with some milk and a quick assembly job.

Zingy Salmon Pasta Bake

I made this with some hot smoked salmon fillets that I had taking up space in my freezer, it would be equally as good made with fresh salmon though.  Hubby declared this one of the best meals I have ever made him ..... I wonder about him sometimes, I really do!

For two people :

2 salmon (hot smoked or regular) fillets 

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped(leave it out if you don’t have it, it’s not essential)

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped

1tb flour

¼ cup or so white wine (leave it out if you don’t have the dregs of a bottle to hand!)

250ml fish stock (Knorr pots are my favourite)

Zest and juice of a large lemon

2tsp capers

A good bunch of flatleaf parsley chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

100g – 150g pasta cooked to the underdone side of al dente.

Firstly, if you are using regular salmon fillets they will need gentle poaching until cooked – reserve the cooking liquid to make up the stock with.

Finely chop the fennel if using, the celery and garlic and sauté in a little olive oil for 10 minutes until softened.  Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemon and set aside.

Add the flour to the vegetables and stir around to absorb all the liquid and then allow it to cook for a minute or two.  Add the stock a little at a time to make a smooth sauce – as smooth as the copped vegetables will allow – and then cook to thicken.  This is going to be a pasta bake so the sauce needs to be more soupy than thick, so add a little more water if necessary.  Add the zest and juice of the lemon, the capers and season to taste with salt and pepper.   Add the broken up fillets of fish and the chopped parsley and stir together.

Add the drained cooked pasta to the sauce and combine together, then turn out into an ovenproof dish.  Cover with a scattering of breadcrumbs and top with grated cheese – a mixture of cheddar and parmesan works best.

Cook in a hot oven for 25 minutes, until the topping and the sauce underneath are bubbling.  I cooked mine at 190oC (375oF / gas mark 5).

I apologise for the quality of photographs, the real ones are stuck on my SD card as my computer won’t recognise it!  I’ll update the blog post as soon as I can with the real ones!