Beetroot soup

I love beetroots, especially roasted or in soup. In fact roast beetroot soup is just brilliant, super tasty and very easy to make. I just had some for lunch so I thought I’d share my recipe.

What you need (makes enough for 6 as a light lunch):

1kg of uncooked beetroots

2 large floury potatoes

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 litre of stock (I used the simmering liquid from a gammon a cooked the day before)

rapeseed or sunflower oil

What you do:

1. Wear rubber gloves or you’ll end up with beetroot stained hands!

2. Top, tail and peel the beetroots and cut into quarters (make sure they are roughly even sized so cut larger beets into eighths).

3. Put beetroot pieces in a bowl, pour over about two tablespoons of oil and toss the beets to get them evenly coated.

4. Roast the beets for about an hour in the oven at R6/200C, turning once or twice. Its nice id the corners catch a bit but not too much. They are ready when you can slide a knife in easily.

5. Gently cooked the onions in a tablespoon of oil for about 10 minutes so they are golden and soft.

6. Meanwhile boil the peeled potatoes until soft but not falling apart.

7. Add the cooked beets and potatoes to the onions, pour on the stock. Taste for seasoning. My stock was well seasoned so it didn’t need any more at this stage.

8. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.

9. Blend to a relatively smooth soup using your preferred method/gadget. Pour back in the pan and warm through.

To Serve:

Good things to sere with this are:

– crusty bread and butter or tangy goats cheese

– dollop of creme fraiche/greek yoghurt/cream to swirl in



Soups and Stocks

Although spring definitely feels like it might be on the way some days are still pretty cold and so a warming soup is just what’s needed, here’s some thoughts on soup I wrote for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in January. I think I might just have soup for lunch tomorrow.

January is a funny month. For some people it feels slow and difficult, winter is most definitely with us, its cold and its dark, summer seems such a long way off whichever way you look at it. For others it’s a chance to think afresh of a new year with new challenges, making resolutions and feeling energised by the possibilities. But what has this got to do with soup? Well the versatility of soup and the range of recipes out there mean it can work for whichever way you see January. It can be warming and comforting or bright, lively and refreshing. Hearty or light, you can make it whichever way suits you best.

Roasted root vegetable soup with cheese

To make really good soup though you need some good stock. Water will work in many recipes but I’ve rarely made a soup that isn’t enhanced by using stock rather than water, there is an extra layer of flavour and complexity. People will compliment you on the simplest of soups if you’ve used stock. Making stock doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as simmering a few vegetables in water with or without a few herbs right up to making a consommé, essentially a beautiful clarified reduced stock. I usually make stocks with the carcass left over from a roast chicken or the bone from a rib of beef, or keep the liquid from cooking boiled ham and use that as a stock, I like doing this because each stock carries some of the flavours of the original meal and it makes best use of the meat you’ve bought. You can also get bones or chicken wings specifically and make a stock with those. Most recipe books will explain how to make a range of stocks but ‘A Celebration of Soup’ by Lindsey Bareham is particularly thorough, if you can track down a copy, with recipes for just about every type of stock you can imagine. Stock is perfect for freezing and then always to hand. If you don’t have a freezer then some good quality stock or bouillon cubes will give you a better result than plain water.

So you have your stock. Where might you head next? These are the things I think about when building a soup:

Thick or thin: Do I want a broth with interesting chunky additions or do I want something thick and velvety smooth in texture. Clearly you can pick somewhere between these two but I like to decide which direction I’m heading on this one before anything else.

Herbs or spices: I usually either head for something based round European flavours and herbs or something mainly based round spices whether Indian, Mexican, Middle or Far Eastern. Then I narrow down a bit to a more specific cuisine British, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and so on.

Then I take a look in the fridge and the cupboards and see what fits with the ideas I’ve got. Of course a little bit of tweaking happens at this stage when I find a critical part of my genius soup is sadly unavailable, but usually it is easy to stay fairly close to the original idea. If there is left over roast meat that might feature, sometimes there are roasted root vegetables that can be included, or beans of various types, pearl barley or lentils, tinned tomatoes or passata, chorizo or pancetta or salami, fresh ginger or chilli, mushrooms, potatoes (roast potatoes are lovely in soup), peas and so on …… but not all in the same soup. I rarely follow a recipe specifically but I do always take a look in a few books to help my ideas and also make sure I’m not making some horror of clashing ingredients. Sticking to a few key ingredients and combinations that you know work from your other cooking really helps and of course, so does making a soup to a particular recipe every now and then to expand your repertoire.

Here are guidelines to 3 quick soups I make quite often (all recipes for 2).

Beany Pork Soup

  • 500ml stock (preferably ham but chicken or vegetable also work)
  • 1 tins of beans (e.g. chickpea, haricots, butter, red kidney) including the liquid in the tin if its got no added salt
  • Pancetta, salami, chorizo, bacon, left over boiled ham or roast pork, whichever you have
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (rapeseed or olive)
  • Herbs or spice to complement

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the meat that you are using and toss with the onions, allow to cook through if the meat is raw. Add the stock and the beans. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread. I sometimes add finely shredded cabbage, greens or spinach to this soup or if there are cold cooked potatoes a couple of those to make it thicker and heartier (mush them in with a fork) or leftover cooked pearl barley.

Roast Root Vegetable Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • 500ml of roast vegetables (i.e. put them in jug to see how much you have), any mix you like. I particularly like it when there is beetroot as it makes the soup an amazing colour
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (the same as you used to roast the vegetables)
  • Herbs or spices of your choice
  • Cheese to sprinkle on top

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the stock and the root vegetables. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Either whizz in a blender, food processor or using a stick blender or mash with a potato masher. The texture can be anything from velvety smooth to quite chunky but it should all be well combined, this isn’t a broth with bits soup more a liquidy puree. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and bread.

Spicy Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • fresh ginger and chilli finely sliced
  • other spices of your choice
  • chicken or beef or prawns or vegetables, cut in small pieces (except prawns)
  • spring onions or garlic finely chopped
  • rapeseed oil

Have the stock already heated in a separate pan. Sauté the spring onions or garlic in the oil until softened. Add the ginger and chilli and sauté for a few minutes. Add any further spices and sauté briefly. Add the meat, vegetables or prawns and cook on a high heat like you would a stir-fry. Add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Serve immediately and add Asian seasoning such as soy sauce or nam pla if you wish. You can add noodles to the stock (cooking to the packet instructions).

Smokin’ tomatoes: an experiment

After enjoying the ‘In the Bag’ challenge so much I thought it would be good to join in another blog event. I spotted the ‘No croutons required’ event over at Tinned Tomatoes run by Holler.

It’s a vegetarian challenge, I’m no vegetarian but I do like a bit of a challenge.

One of the things I’m finding so great about food blogging is checking out the other food blogs and from that getting the grey cells moving to come up with new ideas or remember forgotten favourites. Suddenly lots of ideas come together and you want to try something different. 

This months ‘No croutons required’ has an extra twist – its been Holler’s birthday and so along with the soup or salad (based on tomatoes this month) we also have to come up with a birthday dinner menu for Holler – fortunately we don’t have to cook and test the whole lot together – though I’m thinking it might be wise to at least have tried the rest of the menu before?

So to business, the menu looks like this:

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup
Chickpea pancakes with wilted mixed greens and fresh cheese
Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream 

Hope Holler likes it ?

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup:

This is (very) loosely based on the Tuscan soup Pappa al Pomodoro. 

First some tips and WARNINGS!

We are actually going to be smoking the tomatoes with a smoking mix of rice/tea/sugar so if you don’t like smokey foods forget it now. If you’d like to go an adventure with me hop on and keep reading.

Once the smoking thing gets going it really does make the house smell, well pretty smokey, so ideally do this in the garden, on a camping stove, on the gas ring of your fancy barbeque any heat source you can find. If not open all the windows, shut internal doors, put the extractor on max and hope for the best.

The smoke, as well as creating tasty smoked tomatoes, will get all over the pan/steamer you use so don’t use your best/favourite pan as its takes a lot of effort to clean up. Use a non-stick wok if you can and one of those cheap(ish) bamboo steamers. If you have a smoker use it (not them).

If you don’t like smokey or chargrilled foods you won’t like this – stop now make something else.

Be careful where you put the steamer down post smoking; don’t make an impossible to remove mark on your new work surface like I once did ?

Ingredients (for the smoking bit):

½ cup rice – don’t worry what type – I used basmati
¼ cup tea – whatever you fancy, the stronger the tea the stronger the flavour – I used Darjeeling
2 tbsp soft brown sugar (I think its this that makes a lot of the mess)
6-8 ripe tomatoes – medium size

  • Mix the first three ingredients together – makes about 1 cup of smoking mix.
  • Get a piece of foil about 3cm bigger all round than the base of the pan you are going to use. Fold the edges up, tip in the smoking mix, pop it in the bottom of the pan.
  • If you want to skin the tomatoes then nick the skin in a cross on the bottom, plunge in just boiled water for about a minute, remove and peel off skins. I can never be bothered to do this but it’s your call.
  • Put the pan with the smoking mix on the heat, cover the pan and let is start to generate smoke – about 5-10 mins to get a good flow.
  • Put the tomatoes on a piece of foil bigger than the steamer and fold up the edges but don’t cover the tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in the steamer.
  • When you’ve got a good amount of smoke then pop the steamer on top of the pan containing the smoke mix and smoke for up to 15 minutes depending on the intensity of smokiness you fancy – we did about 10 mins.
  • The tomatoes will have cooked and let out juices don’t loose these they go in the soup.

For the soup (2 as a hearty lunch, 4 as a starter):

the smoked tomatoes (as above) – use as few as or as many as you like to adjust the smokiness of the soup
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
1 pint vegetable stock (made with bouillon powder is fine)
4oz dried pasta, either small soup pasta, or whatever you have broken into smaller bits (I used linguine snapped into smaller lengths)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

  • Gently sauté the garlic in about 1tbsp olive oil for a couple of minutes but don’t let it go brown and bitter
  • Add the smoked and tinned tomatoes and squish them around to make sure they are in smallish pieces
  • Add the stock
  • Add 1 sprig of rosemary stripped from the stalk and roughly chopped
  • Bring it all to simmering point then add the pasta
  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes so its all warmed through and the pasta is cooked
  • Serve garnished with a small sprig of rosemary

And the taste – well it was pretty smokey. I liked it but Ian wasn’t convinced (which is odd because he’s usually a fan of smoked foods). I think if I did it again I’d smoke the tomatoes for less time, maybe use a very subtle tea – although Darjeeling isn’t usually though of as a strong tea the flavour after 10 minutes of smoking its pretty intense, and perhaps use fewer of the smoked tomatoes saving the others to make a bruschetta or toss in a salad.

As for the rest of the menu….

Chick pea pancakes with wilted greens and fresh soft cheese: I’d use the recipe in my Spicy chickpea pancakes post but omit the chilli, ginger and cumin seeds and add lots of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley instead. I’d wilt a mix of the nicest looking greens I could find probably spinach, kale and wild garlic for preference, pile these on the pancakes and add some lovely fresh soft cheese cut into slices (ideally I’d get some Stichill or Crowdie but any nice goats cheese would also work well) and then fold the pancakes in half and serve with some steamed leaks and purple sprouting broccoli.

For desert there’d be my Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream, with a dash of stewed rhubarb and a little cream poured over so it freezes on the ice cream in the way I loved so much as a kid.

UPDATE (1/5/09):

I’m thrilled to say that I WON April’s ‘No Croutons Required’. I don’t usually win stuff so I’m quite excited and am going to be proudly displaying the winners badge in my sidebar :)

Thanks to all who voted, and for all the comments.

A pea soup for spring

It was the first day of spring on Saturday and the weather ran exactly to form – sunny and warm but with a slight bite to the wind. We all wanted something for lunch that fitted in with the weather – salad would perhaps be too summery and at first we though that soup would be too hearty. What we needed was something that was fresh enough to keep the mood of spring and summer to come but warming enough to take the edge off that wind.

After some time spent flipping through cookery books I found a recipe for pea soup that seemed to fit the bill. Now of course peas aren’t in season right now (and I’ve been working hard at cooking more seasonally of late) but in fact most of us never actually get to have really truly fresh peas straight from the plant, out of the pod and into the pot (or our mouth). Unless you grow your own peas, or know of an excellent source where you can be sure you will get the peas the same day as they were picked, then its very likely the case that the best tasting peas you’ll eat at home will be ones from the freezer. The frozen pea is actually pretty good, its well known that the time from picking to packing is very short and this preserves the sweetness (according to Bird’s Eye field to frozen is 2 ½ hours), and you can now get organic grown frozen peas to lessen the guilt of not buying fresh!

So we settled on pea soup. The recipe comes from a book called ‘The Little Book of Soup’ and was contributed by Gary Rhodes (it’s a nice little book and I’ve cooked a number of soups from it adapting as I go. It also supports homeless charities through donating 70% of proceeds). The recipe in the book suggests it feeds 4 as a generous starter but as we had 4 and this was our main dish for lunch I roughly doubled up the quantities (I didn’t actually have enough frozen peas to do double so I guess the original might be thicker in texture). Below I’ve listed the quantities I actually used and in brackets those quoted in the recipe:

1 litre of chicken stock (600ml water or stock)) – in my opinion stock is always a better base for soup as it gives an added dimension that helps lift the flavour up a level – but as you can see Gary suggests water and since he’s a Michelin starred chef and I’m not we have to grant that he might know a thing or two about making soup.
750g frozen peas (450g podded fresh peas or frozen)
salt and pepper
pinch caster sugar
2 desert spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt (100ml whipping or single cream)

The method is pretty easy you basically bring the stock to the boil add the peas bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the peas are tender. Then you add the seasonings of salt, pepper and sugar and liquidise/blend the whole lot with whatever kitchen implement you have to hand for that purpose. Gary suggests you could push it through a sieve to get a really smooth finish and I imagine for a dinner party this might be worth the effort but for a quick light lunch with friends I’d say it’s overkill and time ill spent. Put it back in the pan and warm through adding the yoghurt or cream (or crème fraiche would also work well) just before serving. We garnished it with some fresh chopped mint leaves or for a more wintery take you could try crispy lardons or strips of salami.

Taste wise it was just what we had hoped for, fresh flavours with depth from the stock and just enough soupy warmth to make it a great dish for the start of spring.

Leftover roast chicken – lets make stock

The stockpot is on. And in a good few hours there’ll be a fresh batch of chicken stock to use in soups, risottos or casseroles.

There is nothing quite like making stock (chicken or any other type) to make you feel virtuous, in fact there’s a danger of becoming smug about the whole thing. You’re getting maximum value from something in a way that would make your grandparents proud and you’re going to get extra special compliments on all the dishes you use it in; not because people know, but because they really can taste what it adds to the dish in its wonderful background way (kind of like a book printed on particularly nice paper). Soup made with proper stock really is on another level – anyone who ever says in a soup recipe use stock or water as if there is little difference is absolutely missing the point in my book.

But before you get carried away with the idea of stock making let’s just check in with some basics.

Do you have a big enough pan? If you only have a small saucepan then I’m sorry but making stock is not on the cards for the time being. You need something large enough to hold the broken up chicken carcass along with the vegetables we’ll be adding and up to around 3 litres of water. So pretty big – roughly 22-24cm in diameter or more. The pan in the pictures below is 28cm in diameter. There’s lots of lovely pans out there but there’s also no need to go mad. A great pot will last you for years and will be really useful for pasta, big batches of chilli, ragu and casseroles. As an example IKEA do a 5l stainless steel pot for about £17 and I’m sure there’s plenty more reasonably priced options out there – as with any kitchen kit though do go for the best you can afford today.

Have you got enough space to store the stock? You’re going to end up with between 1.5l and 2.5l (about 3-6 pints) of stock so think about where you are going to keep it. The ideal choice is to freeze most of it but if you’ve only got an ice box rather than a freezer then it could prove a little difficult. It will keep fine in the fridge but you’d need to use it within a week.

Have you got time? In many ways it doesn’t take long and you don’t have to constantly attend to it but on the other hand it will need to be simmered for at least 2 hours so don’t decide to make it when you know you need to go and collect the dry cleaning in half an hour. Anyway you won’t want to go out once its cooking because the smell will be so delicious you’ll just want to stay in and do some more of that ‘stock smug’ feeling thing.

Have you got something to strain it through? A colander is fine if that’s what you’ve got – it’ll take out the big/medium debris. Some people like to strain it through something finer, even muslin to get the smaller bits out and create a clearer stock. A fine gauge colander or a sieve you won’t be using for flour is good. 

Okay so lets get going.

Get the chicken carcass and any bones you’ve saved from using up the leftovers so far. Strip all the good useful meat of the carcass but don’t be too fussy about this – leaving some meat on the bones will add to the flavour of the final stock. Bung all the bones, any really scrappy meat, the carcass and the skin i.e. anything chicken-y, into the stockpot.

Next add the vegetables and herbs that are going to help flavour things. Read any cookery book and even if they tell you that you shouldn’t be using leftover roast (ignore them, they are wrong, stick with me, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall) they will tell you to add the pretty much holy trinity of onion, carrot and leek – so do that. One medium onion (in quarters), a couple of reasonable size carrots cut in chunks (no need to peel unless you can’t manage to get all the soil off any other way) and a leek (all of it except the very bottom – no throwing those green tops away) again cut into chunks and rinsed so you don’t get sandy soil in the stock. Also good to add is celery – a couple of stacks – chunks again. On the herb/spice front you need some whole black peppercorns (6 or so), a bay leaf or two and a spring of parsley or thyme.

Pour on the water so everything is just covered – the tighter you pack the pot the less water you’ll need and the richer the end result. Less than 1.5l and you’re likely to have missed something out from the pot (so check because no chicken carcass = no chicken stock), more than 3l and its not really going to be that flavoursome.

Bring it up to the boil. You might get some horrid looking scummy froth rising up – scoop it out. And then cover and simmer for anything from 2-5 hours depending on the richness you want to achieve and the time available between starting and needing to do something else – like sleep or use the stock to make your dinner.

That’s pretty much it for a while. Check up on it every now and then and top up the water if it’s looking a bit low.

Once it’s done, allow it to cool and strain it – maybe straight into the tubs you’ll freeze it in. Use the size of tub that you’ll need your stock to be in later. Quite good are the tubs that fresh soup comes in at the supermarket – eat the soup, wash the tub, refill with stock, confident that you won’t need to be buying soup from the supermarket again anytime soon.

Baby its cold outside

Its been pretty cold the last day or so with a snow fall of about 6 inches today – something we haven’t seen for a long time (18 years according to the records). So its mostly all about curling up near the heater/fire/radiator with a warm drink and a small snack whilst contemplating which warming dish to have for lunch or dinner.


Soups and stews are the order of the day and better still if there are a few things to hand to cook one up relatively quickly. Who wants to have to scrape the snow off the car to go and get dinner in weather like this when the time could be better spent making snowmen and going for a brisk walk? So its been a search in the fridge and cupboards for things that can quickly be rustled up into hearty dishes. 

Porridge for breakfast – always good on a cold day; then a soup for lunch made from onion, canned beans, sliced leftover sausage (salami, ham or bacon would also do the trick) and the last bits of a cabbage  – a kind of muddled up caldo verdo/minestrone.

The search for dinner possibilities revealed beef stew leftovers (always happens when there are two of you to feed – stew and casserole recipes don’t seem to be devised for less than 4 – but hey why worry when they are almost always tastier on the second go). We added some big field mushrooms and then some pasta which we cooked and stirred in at the last minute.


All good warming dishes, no trip to the shops needed and plenty of chance to make snowmen because there won’t be another chance to do that for nearly 20 years!