Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chickaleekie soup

People should eat more pulses, I think! They're so cheap (especially if you buy dried ones) and nutritious, a good source of protein and vitamins, not to mention fat-free.

They are though, I think, still avoided by people - they're not trendy, TV cooks don't use them often, and they're associated with old-fashioned farmhouse cookery even now. But they're so yummy and easy to use. Start with easy beans like chickpeas (delicious stir-fried with green beans, tomato, cumin, coriander and garlic - or blended with tahini to make hummus) and haricot beans (brilliant in a cassoulet in the oven - just add chopped vegetables, tomatoes, red wine, rosemary and bay leaves. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese in the last ten minutes for a crusty topping). Kidney beans make a fantastic chilli pasta bake: combine with a jar of salsa, a mug of good stock, a chopped pepper, and a couple of handfuls dried pasta - bake in an oven topped with 1 carton creme fraiche, 2 eggs and 1 handful cheddar (whisked together). I could go on, but I won't.

No potatoes in the house, and some leeks to use up, plus I have a tummy bug and want something good and easily digestible. So, on this midsummer day, I have a pot of soup simmering. Chickpeas make a good potato substitute here - higher in protein and lower in hip-unfriendly carbohydrate. If I had the bread I'd add some crunchy brown croutons to this soup at the end - and, maybe, just a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan.

Italians have a lot of recipes for pulse-based soups; thick and stewy, with green vegetables and a final dousing of olive oil. The River Cafe and Jamie Oliver have recipes for this type of soup, which sometimes also has small pasta shapes in it. This is my version.

2 leeks, washed and chopped roughly
1tsp (generous) butter
1 tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1tsp Marigold Veg Bouillon
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Soften the leeks in the butter until transparent (not brown). Add the chickpeas, bouillon, and bay leaves; cover with hot water and simmer 20 mins. Puree in a blender - cover your ears and leave it running for as long as you can bear! Return to the pan, season to taste, and serve hot from a mug.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The sudden rainstorm has brought unexpectedly welcome hot food, pasta bakes and mash potatoes, and being stuck inside always sends me back to the kitchen. It's some kind of nesting instinct, I think. In my continuing mission to turn into a country grandma before my time, I had my first go at jam-making on Monday night. I washed and chopped strawberries and rhubarb (half and half), added 2/3 of their weight in sugar, a good squeeze of orange and lemon juice (1 of each), and boiled the whole lot in my biggest pan. (To test for set, you just put a saucer in the freezer, then remove and drop a teaspoon of jam in the middle. You can see the set once it cools a little.) It took around 20 minutes (and more lemon juice) to set, softly, and made four jars. I'm not going to post the recipe yet. I think I need another try, with less sugar, and perhaps adding some extra strawberries near the end, so that they stay whole.

We ate my ruby-glowing jam with scones (Delia's decades-old recipe works wonderfully, despite modern versions with fancy-pants buttermilk) and clotted cream. It's a good way to shake off a grumpy mood, and there seem to have been a few of those in our house lately.

We're cooking for our friends tomorrow night - I think I'll try out the jam on them, even though they don't like rhubarb; Steve is going to cook his Quorn Stroganoff, which takes him all of about fifteen minutes. To add to the table (and fend off hungriness - I always worry that guests will be hungry at the end of the evening) I think I might also make some feta and sundried tomato bread, depending on how organised I feel tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, I'm drinking my low-cal hot chocolate, and watching the rain...

Monday, June 11, 2007


1lb broad beans, podded
1 large bunch basil
1tbsp pine kernels
1tbsp parmesan, finely grated
1tbsp olive oil
Fresh pepper
Penne (enough for two)
1tbsp single cream
Extra parmesan to shave over the top

Put the broad beans into a pan of hot water and bring to the boil. When they reach simmering point, leave for about 20 seconds, then switch off. Tip the beans into a colander over the sink and leave to cool.

Make the pesto: you can use a food processor, but this is how it's traditionally done. (Make sure the basil is really, really fresh and fragrant - if the scent doesn't waft out of the bag, put it to use decorating a different pasta dish*, or shred it into an Italian salad.) Pound half the pine kernels with half the basil in a pestle and mortar, then remove to a plate. Pound the remaining basil and kernels, and put the first batch back into the bowl. Add fresh pepper, a good slug of olive oil, and the finely grated parmesan, and stir until it looks like pesto.

Drop the penne into boiling water and simmer as per packet. While it's cooking, shell the broad beans, pinching off the greyish-green skin, and dropping them into the pesto. As soon as it's just cooked, drain the pasta, and return it to the pan. Stir in the cream, then add the pesto and broad beans, and mix gently. Serve with extra parmesan for those who want it.

*Steve's easy penne is good - roast a punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved. Boil penne and add a splash of balsamic vinegar, a splash of cream, the tomatoes, the shredded basil, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A quick bit of gnocchi...

Just to get us back into the garden more quickly...

Drop 1 packet Sainsbury's fresh gnocchi into boiling water for a couple of minutes, and drain. Warm 1tsp olive oil and add 1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved. Fry until they begin to come apart. Meanwhile, crush 25g fresh basil in a pestle and mortar with 1 handful pine kernels and 1tsp salt. To the pan add 1tsp balsamic vinegar, 1dsstp single cream, and then tip in the rustic pesto (crushed basil). Add the gnocchi and heat through; serve with grated parmesan.