Tuscan White Bean Soup

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Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.

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It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.

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Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.

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With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.


Polenta with Cavolo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

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I stumbled across spaghetti squash the other day and thought it would be fun to create a recipe around it. Spaghetti squash lives up to it’s name in that once you have roasted it (I simply cut it in half length ways then added a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper) you use a fork to scoop out the flesh and it comes out looking like little spaghetti strands. You could easily substitute it for spaghetti in fact, although it tastes like squash and not pasta. Please note when you cut into the raw spaghetti squash it is slightly harder than your regular squash so do be careful when handling the knife.

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A great friend was coming over for lunch so I wanted to cook something straightforward, comforting and easy to assemble. The squash takes about 40 minutes in the oven, but does not need any attending to once it is in the oven. I opted for polenta (bramata) which takes a couple of minutes max to whip together. Any form of greens is always a great addition to any meal so I opted for cavolo nero, but you could easily use spinach, green cabbage, shard. I took a photo of all the ingredients but once I had thrown the dish together I realised it needed a splash of colour and one other flavour to bring it all together. So I opted for some sundried tomatoes, which completely lifted the whole dish. Also in my haste to photograph and then devour the meal, I completely forgot to place the crispy sage leaves on the top, so if you can try to remember to do this bit.

The dish came together so well and is perfect for this time of year, when the days are crisp and you come in from the cold. When you make the dish, photograph it and then use the #chilliandmint so I can see your efforts.

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Polenta with Cav0lo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

serves 2

1 spaghetti squash, halved

500ml water

145g polenta bramata (course cornmeal)

45g parmesan, finely grated

25ml single cream (optional)

45g butter

4 cavolo nero leaves, finely chopped

salt

pepper

8 fresh sage leaves

3 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

  1. Carefully cut the squash in two and place on a baking tray with a little olive oil and seasoning. Place an oven at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
  2. Whilst the squash is in the oven, add a little olive oil to a pan and when it is hot add the sage leaves and allow to crisp up, which should take around a minute. Remove and place on kitchen paper.
  3. Wash the cavalo nero leaves and finely chop. Heat a pan and place them in the pan for a couple of minutes to allow them to wilt. Remove from the heat and place to one side.
  4. Once the squash is cooked (40 minutes) remove from an oven and using a fork take the flesh out of the squash. It will come away in strands giving it the name ‘spaghetti squash’.
  5. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and have the parmesan grated and ready to use.
  6. Boil the water in a deep pan and when it is boiling gradually pour in the polenta stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
  7. Immediately add the parmesan, single cream (if using), butter, salt pepper to taste and stir. *
  8. To plate up place a generous portion of polenta on a plate then add some cavolo nero and place it in the centre followed by the spaghetti squash, a little parmesan, sundried tomatoes and the crispy sage**.

 

* The longer you heat polenta the harder it will become so take off the heat at the consistency you desire. Personally I prefer my softer.

**After the excitement of platting up and photographing the dish I dived into eat it, only remembering once I had eaten it that I had forgotten to put on the crispy sage.

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Mexican Chilli Beef with Butternut Squash

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Mexican food is perfect when the chill sets in and yet it also lends itself well to hot, humid weather. So wherever you are based in the world at this point in time this Mexican chilli beef is a must. The warm, smokey taste from the pasilla and ancho chilli add a wonderful, addictive, depth to this dish that are well suited to the adult and child palate.

 

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If you can cook it a day in advance the flavours really open up, but if you don’t have the time or inclination try and cook it in the morning if you are going to eat it later in the day.

So you may be wondering where on earth do you get Mexican chillies? I tend to buy mine online and I personally find Melbury & Appleton have a good selection and are quick and efficient to deliver. They also provide 1kg catering packs for the serious Mexican chilli aficionados, which is perfect for when I want to make my chipotle en adobe, it also works out far more cost effective in the long run.

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This is cosy, comfort eating at it’s best and perfect to feed a crowd. Washed down with one of my brother’s ales – check out Wiper and True  (he is the True part of the name!) then you have yourself a knock out meal. Don’t go putting his ale in the dish though, it’s too good for that – use any old lager you have to hand.

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Just take a look at that tasty morsel of meat with the smokey gravy working it’s magic and the wonderful combination of dry roasted pumpkin seeds, butternut squash, raw red onion, avocado and sour cream. A match made in heaven. Seriously give it a go. You won’t regret it and I can guarantee it will become one of your firm favourites going forward.

 Mexican Chilli Beef with Butternut Squash

Adapted from a recipe ‘Beef and Squash Chilli’ in the December 2014 issue of Bon Appetit

Serves 4

1 large dried pasilla chilli (2 if it is small)

1 dried ancho chilli

700ml chicken broth/stock

2 tbsp olive oil

1kg boneless stewing steak/beef chuck, cut into bite sized pieces

 1tsp rock salt and black pepper

1 large white onion, finely chopped

8 garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp tomato puree

350ml lager

1 small (500g) butternut squash skin removed, cubed into bite sized pieces

1 lime, juice only

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To serve

2 avocado, diced into 1 inch cubes

3 tbsp pumpkin seeds, dry roasted

1 tbsp of sour cream per serving

1 red onion, finely sliced

1. First dry roast the dried chillies in a frying pan for a couple of minutes on both sides so that they darken and soften. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl with 500ml of boiling water for up to 30 minutes. Then drain and remove the stork and the seeds and place the chillies in a blender along with the chicken stock, and blend until smooth.

2. In a heavy based pan – I use my Le Creuset Pot – heat the oil and then add the seasoned stewing steak and stir at intervals until the redness has gone and the meat becomes brown. This will take around 5-7 minutes. When the beef is brown take it out of the pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate. There will be a fair amount of liquid that has come from the beef. Once the beef has been removed, turn up the heat so that the liquid evaporates. This will only take a couple of minutes.

3. Once the pan has become dry, add the onion. You may find you need to add a little more oil at this stage. Stir the onion so that it becomes coated in the remnants of the beef juices, add a pinch more salt at this stage. After 4 minutes add the garlic and stir well into the onions. Let the onions and garlic cook together for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the oregano, ground cumin, tomato puree and stir together for a minute before returning the beef to the pan along with the lager. Increase the heat so that the lager begins to be absorbed. After a couple of minutes add the chilli puree that you made to begin with. Increase the heat so that it boils and then reduce it and leave to simmer gently for around 30 minutes.

5. Add the squash and continue to simmer for a further 15-20 minutes or until the squash has softened. Add the lime juice and stir gently. Leave to rest before serving.

6. Place the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and then add 1 tsp of olive oil over the pumpkin seeds. Place in the oven for no more than 10 minutes, being careful to check they do not burn. Let them cool before serving.

To plate up add the Mexican chilli beef, a dollop of sour cream on the side, the roasted pumpkin seeds over the chilli beef and sour cream, a scattering of thinly sliced red onions and then a few avocado cubes. The combination of all these flavours makes for a really memorable meal.


Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

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There is nothing more sublime than a spicy hot tomato soup to warm you up and give you that inner glow. If you are feeling under the weather with a cold or fever, which invariably many of us do at this time of year, this is a great way to blast your system with goodness and help pull you through. Rasam, as it is known in South India, translates to ‘juice’ or in Sanskrit rasa means ‘taste’. I think ‘tasty juice’ is the perfect way to describe this warming, fragrant and flavoursome soup. Traditionally it is made with tomatoes or tamarind with a host of spices and fresh curry leaves giving it a comforting aroma and taste.  Being totally addicted to tomatoes I tend to make my rasam with tomatoes as the base note.

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Traditionally it is eaten in India at the end of a meal, but I tend to serve it the opposite way round and kick a meal off with a warming cup of this thin spiced tomato soup to whet the taste buds. It is often served in a mug or cup or can be poured over a bowl of hot steaming basmati rice. It’s also the perfect drink after a long, cold and invariably wet winter walk. With a roaring fire going and a cup of rasam you will feel a state of happiness surround you. Seriously try it and you’ll know what I mean.

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The only tricky (ish) ingredient to source is fresh curry leaves. If you go to your local Asian grocer they are likely to have some, or at least will be able to point you in the right direction. So what are you waiting for – give it a go and leave and comment below to let me know how you get on.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste/fresh garlic grated

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste/fresh ginger grated

2 large dried red chillies (1 if you prefer it with less of a kick)

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

700g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

350ml water

a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish

black pepper to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a deep non-stick pan and when it is hot add the garlic, ginger, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and crushed black pepper and gently move around the pan so that the chillies darken and the ginger and garlic begin to bronze. Keep on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar.

2. Move around the pan so that the tomatoes begin to soften and are completely covered in all of the ingredients. Then add the water and let it boil for a couple of minutes before lowering the heat and cover for 30 mins.

3. Using a hand blender blend the soup so that it is smooth and then pass through a sieve so that there are no pips or tomato skin and what remains is brilliant red, smooth thin rasam. Heat up the smooth rasam gently in the pan before serving.

4. Pour into cups and garnish with some fresh coriander and black pepper.

 

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