Tuscan Bean Soup

Tuscan Bean Soup

I have never been to Tuscany.  I don’t even know if they make a version of this soup there but this recipe (and variations of it) have always been called Tuscan Bean Soup.  So here it is.

This version is suitable for vegans; I used a vegan bouillon powder to make the stock.  I also used tinned beans for convenience but you could use dried beans if you have time to soak them.  The actual mix of beans isn’t too important – some recipes use all cannellini beans – what really matters is that you choose varieties you like to eat.

My mum used to make a version of this soup (actually, she probably still does) and it has always been a favourite of mine, tasty, hearty and filling.  This soup is no starter to a meal – it is a meal all in itself.  Add some crusty bread and you are away.

Once, when no. 2 daughter was about five years old, we visited my mum when she was cooking.  The conversation went like this:

L: “What are you cooking nana?”

M: “Bean soup”.

L: (With a cheeky glint in her eye) “I don’t care what it’s been, what is it now”?

That pivotal moment should have prepared us for the slightly warped but hilarious sense of humour my daughter has displayed ever since – like the time I opened the kitchen cupboard to find all my groceries looking back at me with googly eyes, or the time she recommended a “really funny” film which was actually the most terrifying thing I have ever seen!

Anyway, for that reason this soup makes me smile and, on a rainy day in March, that is priceless.

Tuscan Bean Soup Recipe

 

Ingredients

2 tbsp Olive Oil

2 large Onions, sliced

3 Celery Sticks, sliced

3 Carrots, diced

3 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped

5 fresh Thyme Sprigs, leaves picked

2 fresh Rosemary Sprigs

1 tsp Smoked Paprika

2 x 400g tins Chopped Tomatoes

2 litres Vegetable Stock

400g tin of Cannellini Beans, drained

400g tin of Flageolet beans, drained

400g tin of Borlotti Beans

1 small Savoy Cabbage, thick stem removed, finely sliced

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan then add the onions, celery and carrots; sweat the vegetables (stirring occasionally) until softened but not coloured.  Add the garlic and herbs and cook for another five minutes.

Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock and beans.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for half an hour or so to give the flavours time to develop.

 

Remove the rosemary and add the cabbage and simmer for another ten minutes or so or until the cabbage is just cooked.

 

This soup will keep in the fridge for two or three days or in the freezer for up to six months.

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Leek and Potato Soup with Truffle Cream

Leek and Potato Soup with Truffle CreamI hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year (apologies if you are reading this in June – I posted it in January!)

We had a fabulous time with a house full of family and love and one very entertaining toddler whose favourite new words are “presents” and “chocolate”; the latter of which is a new experience for her.

But, as lovely as Christmas was, Martin and I were very happy to sneak off for a little bit of time to ourselves at the beginning of this month. We had been promising ourselves a visit to the Gurnard’s Head for some time and we finally got around to it by making the most of one of their Dinner, Bed & Breakfast deals (even though it is less than 30 miles from home).

We had heard good things about the food at this pub/restaurant and were feeling very hopeful. We arrived late in the afternoon and, as we got out of the car, bumped into John Torode. Two thoughts arrived in my head simultaneously:

1. If John Torode eats here the food is probably every bit as good as we hoped.

2. Should I say “hello”?

Question 2 is always a dilemma – what are you supposed to do when you meet someone famous? Is it rude to disturb their peace? After all, when they are out with their family in the wilds of West Cornwall they are probably seeking peace rather than the attention of their adoring fans. But then again, is it also rude to pretend you don’t know who they are?

I settled for a quick smile and a polite “hello” as we passed him and then we booked into our room. Fifteen minutes later we headed out for a walk to the Head before we lost the last of the afternoon light. Once again we bumped into the Masterchef presenter, and then again as we scrambled over the same rocks up onto the point.

“Not speaking” was now becoming an issue for me. I would talk to any random stranger if we were scrambling over rocks together and sharing the same stunning coastal views. Having agonised for ever I finally said something wonderfully inane like; “This blows the cobwebs away doesn’t it?” All my normal wit and charm evaporated as I spoke and I cringed at myself. To his credit he replied politely with a comment on how beautiful it was and we went our separate ways.

Only to bump into each other again on the way back to the hotel.

For goodness sake what is wrong with me? I wasn’t star struck, I just wanted to afford the man some privacy but in doing so I behaved like an idiot, grinning inanely one minute and pretending not to see him the next.

Mr. Torode, if you should ever read this I apologise.

We returned to the pub for mulled wine and the Torode family left. The pub was chilled and laid back, dinner was delicious, the service was friendly, our room was cosy, the bed was comfortable and we had ringside seats for the dramatic thunder and lightning which woke us from our slumbers. What more can I say? All in all The Gurnard’s Head provided a wonderful hideaway for Martin and I and neither of us wanted to leave next morning so we lingered for as long as possible over breakfast by the fire.  Meanwhile, the storm raged outside.

One dish on the menu was Leek and Potato Soup with Truffle Cream. Neither of us ordered it but it did stick in my mind.  I make Leek and Potato Soup a lot and I could only imagine that it would be much improved by the addition of truffle cream. So I made it at home and I was right.  Thank you Gurnard’s Head.

If you are the sort of person who has fresh truffles in the larder then feel free to use them but I used truffle sauce instead which is cheaper but still packed full of flavour. Please note, this recipe is inspired by a line in the menu at The Gurnard’s Head and it is not their recipe. It is just my way of perking up an everyday soup and I hope you like it. If you want to try the original you will have to head down to Zennor and order it for yourself.

Ingredients

Serves 4

A knob of Butter

1 Onion

2 Cloves of Garlic

225g / 8oz Potatoes

2 Leeks

1.2 litres / 2 pints Vegetable Stock

150ml / 5fl oz Double Cream

2 tsp Truffle Sauce

Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Method

Slice the onions. Peel and dice the potatoes. Slice the leeks – this is one of those occasions when you really only want to use the white – keep the green part for making stock.

Heat the butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic and leeks, cook until softened but not coloured. Add the diced potato and cook for a minute or two more.

Add the vegetable stock, turn up the heat and bring it to the boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Whizz with a stick blender until smooth, taste and season with salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt if you have used bouillon powder or a stock cube as they can be quite salty to begin with.

Mix one or two teaspoons of truffle sauce with the cream.

Reheat the soup, pour into warm bowls and swirl through the truffle cream. Serve with crusty bread and butter.

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Celery Soup with Goats Cheese and Pancetta

Celery SoupI find food decisions in December to be a bit tricky sometimes.  With Christmas and its culinary excesses on the horizon I want to eat lighter meals in preparation but when it is cold and grey I want something warming and substantial.  The answer is soup.

It’s tasty and hot but also quick to prepare, leaving plenty of time for late night shopping or evening bouts of present wrapping.

I have to admit that I sometimes find a bowl of soup to be a bit one dimensional so I like to jazz it up a little with great bread, fresh herbs or a tasty topping like the one in the photo.

Celery soup is a bit of a favourite of mine.  Strangely, Martin doesn’t like celery at all but he does like celery soup – weird huh?  The flavour of this soup is entirely dependent on the quality of the stock.  Mine was a roast chicken stock (which is why it is a little darker than most celery soup) and it had lots of flavour.  If yours is a bit flat reach for the spices – fennel seeds will bring out aniseed notes or try adding paprika for a little high note.  The honey I used adds a lovely sweet warmth.

You can serve it with crusty bread, cheese pastry or, as I did, topped with goats cheese and pancetta for a bit of indulgence before you reach for the wrapping paper and get on with the Christmas preparations.

Serves 2

Ingredients

300g/11oz Celery

1 Onion, chopped

1 clove Garlic

400ml / 14 fl oz Chicken Stock

1 tbsp olive oil

A knob of Butter

1 tsp Honey

A small handful fresh Parsley

2 slices Goats Cheese (chevre style)

4 slices of Pancetta

Method

Chop the onion, garlic and celery. Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan and cook the onion and garlic until beginning to soften. Add the celery and cook together over a low heat until softened but not coloured.

Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for around fifteen minutes.

Put the pancetta slices onto baking sheet and either grill or roast in a medium oven until crispy.

Add the honey to the soup and blend until smooth using a stick blender or liquidiser. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, pour the soup into a bowl, top with a round of goats cheese and some crispy pancetta and garnish with some chopped parsley.

 

 

Chilled Beetroot and Orange Soup with Horseradish

Chilled Beetroot & Orange Soup with HorseradishThis recipe is part of a series of recipes featuring beetroot.

This vibrant soup uses seasonal beetroot but lifts it to new heights by the addition of sweet, sharp orange and hot, spicy horseradish.

It works well served in a bowl for lunch, in a glass as an alfresco starter or in shot glasses as a canapé or amuse bouche. Martin also enjoyed it in a glass with a slug of vodka as an alternative Bloody Mary – give it a go it might surprise you.

Was that really me talking about soup as an amuse bouche? I’ve come a long way from the tinned tomato soup of my childhood. How pretentious!

If you like your soup served more traditionally then this one can also be served hot with chunks of crusty bread to cheer you up on a wet day. There, I feel grounded in my Northern roots again now.

But it is really good chilled…

Ingredients

2 Shallots

1 Clove Garlic

1 Carrot

1 Stick of Celery

2 or 3 Sprigs of Thyme

500g cooked Beetroot (cut into chunks)

1 litre Vegetable Stock

1 Orange

Horseradish Sauce to taste

1 tbsp Olive Oil

Salt and pepper.

Method

Finely dice the shallots, garlic, carrot and celery and place in a sautee pan with the olive oil. Remove two or three strips of skin from the orange (zest only) and add to the pan with the sprigs of thyme. Sweat over a low heat until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.

Remove the woody thyme twigs and the orange peel and add the juice of the orange, the stock and the cooked beetroot. Bring to the boil and then simmer for five minutes before blending. Taste and season with the salt and pepper as required.

Set aside to cool, then chill.

You can either blend the horseradish sauce into the soup, swirl it in the bowl or serve a quenelle of it on top of the soup – however you choose to eat yours I promise you will enjoy it.

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Asian Matchstick Soup

Asian matchstick soupI created this recipe for the vegan challenge – a month of eating an entirely vegan diet.

I’m not really sure if this is a soup or a broth (I’m not really sure what the difference is) but I am sure that it is tasty.

It is perfect for those days when you are feeling a little jaded, when you don’t really want to eat but you do want a bit of a boost.  You know, those days when you are nursing a hangover or can feel a cold coming on and all you really want is some warm comfort.

Just enjoying the zingy lemongrass and ginger will really make you feel more perky and that’s before the chilli induced endorphins kick in.  Best of all, it only takes 5 mins to make so you don’t waste energy in the kitchen when you could be curled up on the sofa.

I used all fresh ingredients because I had them but, in an emergency, you could use lazy ginger and lemongrass from a jar and that would make it even quicker.

Ingredients

Makes 1 bowl

1/2 Vegan Stock Cube or 2 tsp Vegan Bouillon Powder.

1/2 Lemongrass Stalk (bruised)

1 Clove of Garlic (chopped)

1″ of Root Ginger (chopped)

1/2 Red Chilli (sliced)

2 Spring Onions

1/4 Red or Orange Pepper

1/2 Stick Celery

1/2 Carrot

A handful of Spinach Leaves

One or two Broccoli Florets

A small handful of Coriander

Method

Put the stock cube / powder in half a pint of cold water along with the lemongrass, garlic, chilli and ginger.  Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile slice the pepper, celery, carrot and spinach into thin, matchstick sized slivers.  I would say julienne but you don’t need to be that precise.  Thinly slice the spring onion and cut the broccoli into tiny florets.

Place the vegetables in the bowl and strain the stock over them.  Serve garnished with the coriander and, if you are a heat head, some extra chilli.

Curl up under a duvet, watch a good film and sip until you feel better.