My Chunky Minestrone Soup Recipe

Anyone of a certain age and living in the British Isles will share my experiences of Minestrone soup and see how far as a nation the British have come in terms of eating freshly made authentic cooking.  My earliest memories are of a tomato ( ? ) soup with a few vegetables and broken spaghetti pieces, quite often made from a dried packet base. Twenty years ago, restaurants seemed to work on some mysterious unseen rota Monday Minestrone ( using the weekends leftover veg ! ), Tuesday Cream of Mushroom for their choice of soup of the day, fortunately for us all today chefs use seasonal produce and their knowledge and skills to bring us soups like Carrot and Coriander and recipes from around the world like Cantonese Crab and Sweetcorn or Patatas Riojanas from Spain.

At its best, a hearty, Italian classic, Minestrone is more of a stew of root vegetables and beans, sometimes with pasta or rice and with the addition of whatever other seasonal vegetables are available. It is the perfect lunchtime or supper course nourishing, filling and very tasty. Minestrone is like many Italian recipes everyone seems to have an authentic recipe and their own list of special ingredients, there isn’t even a clear picture if it is made with a vegetable or meat stock. Minestrone belongs to the style of cooking in Italy called “cucina povera” (literally “poor kitchen”) meaning dishes that have rustic, rural roots, as opposed to “cucina nobile” or the cooking style of the aristocracy and nobles. I love hearty style dishes and this type of recipe suits me down to the ground.

Minestroni Soup

Minestrone has been served most certainly since Roman times and who am I to challenge a dish with such a pedigree, in fact even the name is a derivative of ‘ minestra ‘ or soup. Derived from the Latin ministrare , meaning “to administer”, the word reflects the fact that minestra was served out from a central bowl or pot by the figure of authority in the household. The major change from the Roman version would have been the addition of tomatoes sometime after their introduction to Europe in the mid-sixteenth century. Interestingly the ancient Romans believed in the health benefits of a sparse vegetarian diet of which soups such as Minestrone would have been a staple. This has given us the modern word ‘ frugal ‘ from the Latin fruges, the common name given to cereals, vegetables, and legumes.

If you want to be authentic then you should finish your Minestrone with small Bacon, Garlic and Parsley Dumplings and a great tip from an Italian friend of mine is to save your Parmesan rinds and add them to the simmering soup to add extra flavour, removing before you serve up the delicious soup. You can further enhance the following recipe stirring in two tablespoons of fresh pesto to make Minestrone alla Genovese.

Minestrone Soup

100 ml good quality Olive Oil

1 large Leek, washed and sliced

2 large Onions, peeled and finely chopped

4 large Carrots, peeled and chopped

2 Courgettes, thinly sliced

300 gr Green Beans, cut into 2 cm pieces

8 stalks Celery, thinly sliced

½ Green Cabbage such as Savoy, washed and ripped into pieces

2 litres good homemade Vegetable Stock

454 gr tin Chopped Tomatoes

1 tablespoon Tomato Purée

2 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme

454 gr tin Flageolet or Cannellini beans, strained

100 gr dried Macaroni or Pasta shapes

Sea salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large thick-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Gently cook for fifteen minutes without colouring, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent the root vegetables sticking. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, purée and thyme and bring to the boil and simmer gently for thirty minutes.
Add the tinned beans, courgettes and pasta then simmer for an additional five minutes. Add the green beans and cabbage then continue to simmer until pasta is al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving with bacon dumplings, Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Bacon dumplings

4 oz smoked back bacon

1 oz finely chopped parsley

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 pinches of black pepper
In a blender pulse ingredients until a rough paste is formed. Oil fingers and form into small roughly shaped balls and place on baking tray. Lightly grill until cooked but not brown.


Real Men eat Quiche

Ok here we go again, I have read some of my early posts and realise that they are peppered with bad puns ( sorry ), some quite obscure references* and that I seem to regularly lambaste and offend without even trying. I really did not wish to do that today but the choice of title was just too easy an option. I eat quiche, in fact, I adore quiche and so questions concerning the nature of whether I am or not ‘ a real man ‘ must be addressed to my long-suffering partner. I do however have a couple of reservations.

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I like proper quiche, the Quiche Lorraine, rustic French cooking, crisp pastry filled with a thick layer of creamy, wobbly egg custard flavoured only with some fried cubes of really good bacon. That is it, nothing more, not a single thing, not even parsley. I am not a fan of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink quiche of the salmon, broccoli, blue cheese and anchovy variety.  I am in luck then that I have in my possession a very battered but beautiful French cookery book with just the most perfect recipe. At this point take a bow Annie who scoured a Paris flea market to procure it for me as a gift. Everybody a big hand for my friend, thank you so much.

Quiche Lorraine was originally an open pie, rustic in style, made with bread dough for the crust, in a cast iron pan. Today a rich short-crust or flaky rough puff pastry is used to line a pie dish. Regional variations include adding Gruyère cheese which makes a quiche Vosgienne and onions a quiche Alsacienne. Adding tomato to the recipe creates a quiche Provençal and spinach a quiche Florentine.

 *Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche is the name of a book Bruce Feirstein

Quiche Lorraine                            serves 8 – 10

for the pastry

250 gr strong White Flour

75 gr cold Beef Dripping, cut into small pieces

50 gr cold unsalted Butter, diced

1-2 tablespoons ice cold Water

A generous pinch of Salt

Quiche 2

for the filling

150 gr Bacon Lardons preferably cut from a thick piece of bacon

1 medium sized White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 free range Eggs

250 ml  Double Cream

25 gr Butter

1 tablespoon quality  Olive Oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped Parsley

2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and pureed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

A generous pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8-inch flan ring ( at least 1 inch deep )

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add both fats and rub together with the fingertips lifting and separating the fat with the flour until you achieve the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the Parmesan and pour in one tablespoon of water and gentle form together as a dough. Use more water as required. Do not knead the dough and treat gently for the best results.

Pastry

Alternatively, blitz ingredients to the crumb stage in a food processor, then add water until you get the same result. Wrap in cling film and chill in the refrigerator to relax for at least half an hour.

Rolling Pastry

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6. Roll out the chilled pastry on a clean, floured, work surface to a thickness of approximately a quarter of an inch. The pastry will need to be wide enough to line the bottom of the tin, the sides and provide a little overhang that will reduce as the pastry shrinks during cooking.

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Butter a flan dish or pie ring and carefully roll the pastry onto your rolling pin. Roll back over the flan dish and push to the edges trying not to split the pastry. If you do tear the pastry take a little surplus from the edge and gently push over the gap to patch the hole. Trim the edges leaving a half inch overhang over the lip of the pie dish.

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Chill again for half an hour then cover the pastry with a sheet of baking parchment and fill the dish with rice or baking beans.

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Place on a baking tray and put in the oven. After ten minutes turn the oven down to 375°F/fan 190°C/gas mark 5 and bake for fifteen more minutes. Carefully take out from the oven and remove the baking parchment and rice or beans. Beat up one of the eggs with a fork and brush the inside of the pastry case with a soft pastry brush . Bake in the oven for a further ten minutes until light gold in colour, this is to seal the tart. Take out and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. When cool trim off any excess pastry.

In a medium sized heavy bottomed frying pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over a low heat. Cook the onion for ten minutes without colouring then remove. Replace the onion with the bacon lardons and fry until crispy and light brown, add garlic and cook for one more minute then mix together with the onions. In a large bowl beat the remaining eggs with nutmeg, cayenne pepper and season sparingly as the bacon will naturally add salt. Whisk in the double cream and then strain into a jug to remove any strands of thick egg white. Take the pastry case and evenly spread with the cooked onion and bacon. Place baking tray with the pastry case onto the oven shelf, then pour in the custard mix, filling the case right to the top. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the filling has just set and is slightly wobbly to the touch and the top of the quiche is lovely and golden brown.

 

 


World Apple Day – Jersey Black Butter Ham

Black Butter Ham

The history of Apple Day, held on the 21st of October, is relatively new, the first official celebration was in 1990 in Covent Garden, this event has grown and is now a fixture all over the UK. However, there have been fairs across the south-west cider growing regions for a much longer time. Apple Day is now a celebration of all the myriad varieties of apple, their cultivation, cooking with them and, of course, making cider. There is another tradition much older, as old as cider making itself invoking pagan gods in an ancient fertility ritual which is Wassailing, which takes place in the cider orchards on January 17th.

Black butter

Jersey and Guernsey have a proud apple growing tradition going back many centuries and in Jersey around a fifth of the islands, fertile growing land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was occupied by orchards. Today both islands boast fine cider makers in La Robeline in Jersey and Roquette in Guernsey. But Jersey has another old, traditional product made from sharp, cider apples, ‘ black butter ’ or ‘ Le Nierre Buerre ’. Black butter is now made on Apple Day, with a great many islanders taking part in the production at the Jersey Nation Trust.

Black butter is made from cider apples, cider and sugar which is slowly cooked and reduced over a very long time, often all night with volunteers stirring all evening, with a special wooden paddle, to prevent the mix burning due to the high sugar content. The concentrate is then flavoured with a secret blend of spices, lemon, and liquorice. During the evening there is traditional singing, dancing, story-telling and perhaps drinking of a few glasses of cider.

The finished product is a sweet, dark, sticky spread which you can eat with a salty cheese or perhaps as an alternative to jam with a scone but my favourite is as a glaze on baked ham.

Black Butter Ham

Ask your butcher to source a traditionally prepared dry cure ham and to tie it for you. For more information on curing please visit A Cooks Compendium. A dry cure ham will shrink less during cooking and produce a better quality easier to cut joint of meat. Poaching the ham before finishing the joint in the oven also improves the carving quality and produce a flavoursome stock from which you can make traditional pea and ham soup.

A piece of boned and rolled dry cured Ham, around 1.5 kg – 2 kg is a nice joint

( ask your butcher to weigh it this is important for cooking times )

1 or 2 Onions, peeled

2 Carrots, peeled and halved

2 sticks of Celery, washed

2 Bay leaves

4 Cloves

10 – 12 whole Coriander Seeds

6 – 8 Black Peppercorns

100 gr Jersey Black Butter

a large pan sufficient to submerge the ham

Place the ham in the pan and cover with cold water. Place on the cooker and bring to the boil. Carefully take to the sink and pour out the water and wash off any scum from the ham. This initial boiling will help reduce excess salt in the finished ham. Cover again with cold water and add the carrots, celery, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Pierce the bay leaves with the cloves, pin to the onions and add to the pan. Bring back to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with lid. Cook for twenty minutes per pound of raw weight. Once the cooking time is finished turn off the heat and leave to go cold in the cooking liquor. This can be done the night before.

Preheat your oven to 400 F /200 C / Gas mark 6. Take out your ham from the cold stock which you can strain and reserve to make an excellent soup. Place on a baking tray and with a sharp knife remove the skin leaving a nice layer of fat. Score through the fat with the tip of your knife to leave small, squares or diamonds. Spread over the Black Butter and cook in the oven for thirty to forty minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.


Meringues

I come from a family of serious meringue fans, the marriage of whisked egg whites and caster sugar, the crispy meringue shells, dried in the oven overnight and sandwiched with thick cream and topped with fresh berries and the show-stopping Pavlova with its chewy, marshmallow-like center. To make them chewy, we add cornflour and vinegar to the whipped-up sugar and egg whites. My mum makes an epic Pavlova and my Aunty Mary ate nearly a whole one for her eightieth birthday.

meringue.jpg

There is an old saying that you need ‘old eggs and a clear day’ to make a good meringue, certainly meringues are best made from older eggs, the runny whites are easier to whisk up, and frozen egg whites work very well so keep them from other recipes such a Sable pastry labelled in the freezer until needed, but allow to thoroughly defrost and reach room temperature before attempting the recipe.

There are several recipes for meringue in a professional kitchen including using super-hot sugar syrup ( Italian or Swiss Meringue ) but you can use one technique and warm your caster sugar on a baking tray in a hot oven, before adding to the egg whites, this helps the sugar dissolve quicker and the finished meringue will shrink less ( ideal for when you are making a Lemon Meringue Pie ). Golden caster sugar will make your finished meringue a darker colour but adds a delicious caramel flavour.

Finally, your meringues don’t have to be picture perfect remember you can just use some more cream to cover up cracks and flaws and if in the worst case just turn them into Eton Mess.

Top Tips

Use scrupulously clean bowls, any grease in the bowl will stop your egg whites properly expanding. Rubbing your bowl with half a cut lemon can help, but make sure you wipe it really dry with kitchen roll afterward.

It is an old habit I have but whenever I am baking I always crack the eggs individually into a small separate bowl. This means if you get a bad egg which happens occasionally you can avoid contaminating the rest of a bake. If a little egg yolk gets into the white, try to remove it with half of the cracked eggshell. If the yolk gets broken and mixed into the white, start again.

Be careful not to over-beat the egg whites. Whisk them until they hold firm peaks when the whisk is removed from the bowl. If you over‑whip them the finished texture will be grainy.

Cooking meringues is a process of trial and error and getting to know your oven. You don’t need a fan just an even heat. I have relatives and friends who have used the warm section of an Aga cooker, a plate warmer and an airing cupboard to dry out their meringues!

Classic Meringue Recipe

The simple ratio to remember is double the weight of sugar to egg whites.

300 gr Caster Sugar ( golden if you prefer a more caramelised flavour and colour )
The whites of 5 free-range Eggs, at room temperature
Half a fresh Lemon

Pre-heat your oven to 200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6, and spread the Caster sugar over an oven tray lined with baking paper and heat in the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, wipe the inside of your mixing bowl with the cut lemon and add the egg whites. Whisk up to a foam, then carefully remove the sugar from the oven and tip a third into the egg whites continuing to mix constantly ( you may need help if you are using a hand mixer ). Add the remaining sugar and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled, and is glossy and will hold its shape.

Turn the oven down to its lowest setting. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper, and spoon the meringue mix on, remember to leave sufficient gaps as they will increase in size as they dry out. Place them into the oven and bake until they are crisp on the outside, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, depending on their size, this could take four to six hours. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in there until it has cooled, then immediately transfer to an air-tight container.