Thursday, December 31, 2015

A surprise Christmas present

I received these cute little pins featuring my veggie illustrations, from the creative folks at Bluehill.

Quite timely, as I’m busy chopping up mountains of veg. Forget mince pies, stodgy puds and fiddly canapés; all you really need in the fridge for the holidays is a huge pot of home-made Minestrone soup.

Its beauty is manifold... Start it off with all the lost souls from the vegetable garden, the split carrots, dried out beans and knobbly artichokes and then keep the pot topped up with any left over veg from dinner and once the bird is finished, the stock from the turkey bones. Just keep a vague eye on the proportion of veg to stock and it should get even tastier as time goes on. 

Such an accommodating soup always reminds me of a story we used to read to our children when they were small... 

A cold and hungry tramp arrives on the doorstep of a cosy farmhouse. The farmer’s wife very reluctantly invites him in but is adamant that she doesn’t want to share with him the mouthwatering ingredients she is preparing for her supper. 
Thinking she can fob him off she drops a rusty nail into her pot of simmering water and presents him with a bowl of “nail soup”. 
The tramp sips it, oh so gratefully and declares it delicious. She is flattered. 
There’s a but, though. 
He suggests that to elevate the soup to the next level of delectability she could maybe add an onion? 
You’ve probably guessed, she is persuaded one by one to rummage through her cupboards and add all the ingredients she was reserving for her own supper. The more she adds the more appreciative the tramp is, until they’re both sitting down together sharing a hearty stew.

While I do harbour an affection for the beauty of rusty nails, you will notice I have left them out of this soup. In the spirit of the story though, I am all for rifling through the fridge. In goes that drop of oil swilling around in the otherwise empty anchovy tin and likewise some tomatoes that are too squishy for slicing but perfect for squashing. 

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
½ bulb fennel, diced
2 decent carrots, diced
1 small parsnip, diced 
1 leek halved lengthways, then chopped
1.5 litres stock (veg or preferably turkey)
4 tomatoes (squashed!) or a 400 g can of chopped tomatoes
450 g fresh borlotti beans or a 400 g can of beans
¼ head savoy cabbage
50 g dried mini pasta shapes (or all those broken shards in the bottom of any normal bag)
2 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

freshly grated parmesan to serve

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large, heavy pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and fennel and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a spatula. Add the carrots, parsnip, and leek and continue to cook gently for a further 10 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften. If they are starting to brown reduce the heat.

Add 1.2 litres of the stock, the chopped tomatoes, and the beans. Bring the soup to a boil , then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the cabbage, pasta the fresh herbs and the remaining stock. Simmer for another 10 minutes or until the cabbage and pasta are cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and warm crusty bread.

If you're likely to be deluged by un-announced 'first-footers' tonight, or maybe a weary tramp, there's ample time before midnight to get a pot simmering… 
In fact the local stray cat has just forced entry to my kitchen and plundered the meat I was planning to cook, so we might well be having Minestrone soup too! 

Happy New Year

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