By all rights we should be getting well and truly tired of soup. In fact I have a friend who swears off the stuff after St Patrick’s Day, opting for salads and wraps, even if the mercury is mired in single digits and sleety rain. But I’m not quite ready to give up my comfort blanket of warmed and blended vegetables, pulses and herbs just yet.
I was almost tempted to the salad side today though. It was a cracking 12C (!) up here in Edinburgh, which, if you are unfamiliar with a British winter, is extremely warm. Relatively warm enough to make rash decisions like picnic on the beach (I overheard a young man say that’s where he was headed), or forget your coat. And as I walked a cobbled lane on my way to the splendid Stockbridge Market to pick up my weekly supply of kale, root vegetables, and, um, a black pudding Scotch egg (hey, it was 50 pence off due to it being squashed), I passed more than a few people pottering in their gardens. One brave old chap was enjoying his suntrap position, sunk in a low-slung chair, mug of tea in one hand, tabloid Sunday paper in the other. His eyes were closed as he gave in to the low brightness of our best day of the year. It’s been a stunner, if not quite a scorcher.
And really, not quite warm enough for salads. At least summery, lettucey, pretty salads. I’ve got a few early spring salads lined up for posting soon, so don’t think I am a complete hypocrite when you see them – they won’t be lettucey or particularly pretty, I promise ;D But soup is still king for my lunch, and probably yours, too.
This one is the product of another of my night-time random musings on food and food combinations. I know that broccoli is alleged to originate from Italy, where the first calabrese was grown over 2000 years ago. So, sometime around 3 am one recent morning I wondered if perhaps one of the Ancients might have eaten calabrese with basil in a zuppa of some sort. Then I remembered a huge bag of cashews that I have been using for sweet recipes and dips and thought they might be good too, although not very Roman. And then I remembered some wonton skins threatening to frost over in the freezer so decided that I would use them as a kind of fusion crouton. Well, I think it works. You can be the judge. Sometimes my nocturnal ponderings on food are more abstractions than actual recipes but, even in the cold light of day and several nights of unbroken sleep later, it still seemed a good idea.
And speaking of good ideas, nuts in soups are not as bonkers as they sound. Vegans are familiar with them, or at least the milk form, as they do a good sub for cream, adding thick richness. And raw cashews are a surprisingly good choice – creamy, pale and mild. Nutritious too, what with all the magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and iron. Vitamin K and thiamin too. Sure they are somewhat high in fat, but it’s mainly the good, monounsaturated, artery-excavating kind, and they make for a very filling soup.
I like to soak any nuts I might blend – whether it’s for soups or dips. It really makes a difference to the end result – creamy and smooth rather than distractingly nubbly, like tasty sand. Oh gosh now that’s got me thinking of Noma, Rene Redzepi and Heston Blumenthal, and it’s not even 3 in the morning.
Onto the soup before I start daydreaming about edible soil salads, and other flights of molecular gastronomy fantasy. But don’t worry, I will keep those dreams to myself.
Do you dream in recipes? Do you make them? What’s been your biggest dream-to-plate success so far?
This Week 2011: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Cinnamon & Ginger; Sugared Spelt & Olive Oil Biscuits (Tortas de Aceite)
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Aces by Ruen Brothers – so new it’s not even out yet. A bit reminiscent of the much missed Roy Orbison, but very rocky and punchy. Hugely catchy. One swear word.
The coy quotes around the word ‘creamy’ denotes a bit of fakery on my part. Not only is there no cream, there is no milk. There is also no fake/vegan cream. But I assure you it tastes creamy, silky, rich, and all of those other luscious food words. The basil is a delicious herbal nod to broccoli’s Italian heritage – Pliny the Elder wrote of the Romans’ love of calabrese. To maximise the broccoli’s super powers (it wears an invisible cape), wait until the last five minutes to add it, then blend to creamy velvet goodness. I let mine sit too long before blending and it lost its verdant hue.
1 litre (35 fl oz) hot vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon - highly praised by ‘St Delia of Norwich’)
2 tsp sun-dried tomato puree, tomato tapenade, OR 1 tsp olive oil
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low flame. Add the leeks or onions and sauté gently for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the garlic and celery, sautéing for a further two minutes. Pour on the hot stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes add the broccoli, bring back up to the boil then simmer for a further five minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, pop the now-softened cashews with a couple of tablespoons of their soaking liquor into a food processor. Whiz the nuts until very smooth and just starting to gather. You will probably have to scrape down the side a couple of times. Don’t go too far with the blending or you will have cashew butter!
If you are making the crispy wonton twists, take 4-6 wonton wrappers and cut them into strips. Spread over a small amount of sun-dried tomato puree or tapenade and carefully pick up each strip and twist before placing onto a baking sheet. Bake the strips at 180C/250F for about 5-6 minutes, or until golden and crisp. You can also just brush one side with a little olive oil instead of the tomato paste. For the phyllo version, cut a section of the phyllo sheet into 5 cm long strips and proceed as above. You can carry on and use up the sheet – and indeed more wonton wrappers – and store for a few days in an air-tight container.
When you are ready to eat the soup add the creamed cashew and the basil leaves to the pan and blend with an immersion/hand blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning; you might want some pepper or lemon. Ladle into serving bowls and top with the wonton twists.