Chilled Almond Soup

We’ve all tried Gazpacho, but this traditional Spanish chilled soup, made with almonds and garnished with delicate slivers of fresh grapes, is less well-known. The first time I tried it was at a Spanish cooking demonstration hosted by my friend Jill. Sometimes it’s known as White Gazpacho.

You could be forgiven for thinking it has a lot of cream in it, but the creaminess comes entirely from the almonds. The perfect way to kick off lunch on a hot summer’s day.

Chilled Almond Soup1 cup milk (or soy or almond milk)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup blanched almonds (or raw unsalted cashews)
1 tin cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 tsp white wine or white balsamic vinegar
A few red grapes
Coarsely ground black pepper

If you have time soak the almonds in the milk for several hours or overnight, then drain, keeping the milk.

Place three of the garlic cloves in a saucepan with the milk and simmer for 10 mins or until soft. Tip into a blender with remaining clove of garlic and the rest of the ingredients except the grapes. Blend until smooth, although this soup does have a nutty texture, so it won’t be completely smooth. You could sieve it, but you would lose a lot. Chill soup for several hours or overnight.

To serve, check for seasoning and if too thick add a little extra milk. Serve garnished with thin slices of grapes and some cracked pepper.

Serves 4

Sweet Potato Soup with Cheesy Thyme Toasts

Sweet potatoes keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. They’re great for adding to soups or casseroles and a good stand-by vegetable to serve mid-week, when you’ve run out of other options. One of my favourite ways to serve pan fried fish is on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes.

This sweet potato soup is perfect for lunch or supper. Use any kind of bread to make the toasts – I used English muffins.

25g butter or 2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and cubedsoup
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 litre (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp mixed spice or cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Milk
Cream
Cheesy Thyme Toasts
4 large thick slices sourdough bread (or 4 muffins, split)
1 cup grated cheddar
3-4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or 1-2 tsp dried thyme)
pinch salt
¼ cup cream

Heat butter or oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes, or until softened but not brown. Add sweet potato, stock and mixed spice or cinnamon. Simmer for 20 mins or until vegetables are soft then allow to cool a bit.

Blend soup in a blender or food processor, in two batches, until smooth. Return to the saucepan and add enough milk to make to desired consistency. Season to taste. Reheat and serve topped with a swirl of cream and accompanied by the toasts.

Lightly toast bread or muffin halves in a toaster. Meanwhile turn grill on to high. Mix cheese, thyme, salt and cream and spread over the toasts. Place under hot grill until bubbly and golden.

Serves 4

 

Prawn Bisque

I’m what you might call an abstemious cook, thanks to Scottish genes from my paternal grandmother and waste not want not mentality from my mother, who spent the Second World War in Malta with strict rationing.

Throwing away food – unless it’s gone off – is something I can’t bear to do. A few tired looking vegies in the bottom of the fridge? In no time you can convert them into a delicious cream of vegetable soup. My kids tell me they’ve inherited this trait, so they must be strong genes.

On the shelves of a Bed and Breakfast in rural France I once found a very old hand-written recipe book. I copied out lots of recipes, including this delicious soup made entirely from prawn heads and tails. I had always hated throwing out juicy prawn heads and tails and since acquiring this recipe I don’t have to.

Next time you buy some big fat prawns – cooked or raw – save the heads and tails in a bag in the freezer and keep adding to them. I know there are rules about refreezing things, but if you use very fresh prawns and get them into the freezer ASAP you won’t have a problem. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m still here to tell the tale. If you prefer not to freeze them, you can always make the bisque straight away, but I never seem to have enough prawn heads when I have time to cook. The recipe isn’t all that time-consuming, but it’s not something I would do on a mid-week evening while trying to prepare dinner.

When you have enough in the bag and a quiet weekend make this scrumptious soup. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days, or can be frozen for several months. Freeze it without the cream, then add the cream when you thaw and reheat it. Serve it as a soup or as a sauce for scallops, fish, prawns or prawn-filled wontons.

Once when we were living in Chile we had a power cut which lasted two days. The only thing Matthew was worried about was getting the Prawn Bisque across town and into the custody of a friend whose freezer was still working.

This is one of my top ten recipes of all times – just as good as a seafood bisque seved in a top French restaurant – so do try it.

Prawn Bisque2 kg prawn heads and tails
125g butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 onions, chopped
1 cup flour
2-3 carrots depending on size, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
750ml white wine
½ cup brandy
1 cup tomato paste
Water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
500ml cream
To serve:
Cream
Croutons (optional)
Chopped parsley

With a sharp knife or cleaver, cut prawn heads in two. Heat butter in a very large heavy-based saucepan, add prawn heads and tails and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic and continue to cook, stirring until softened. Add flour and stir for a minute or two until cooked. Add carrots, celery, wine, brandy, tomato paste, salt and pepper and enough water to cover everything.

Simmer covered for between one and one and a half hours, stirring often (especially the bottom so it doesn’t stick), pushing down with a potato masher to help remove all the flavour from the prawns and topping up the water level as it evaporates.

Strain soup through a sieve in batches, pressing down hard on solids then discarding them. To serve, reheat with cream. Adjust seasoning and serve garnished with a swirl of cream, croutons (if using – I didn’t in the photo) and chopped parsley.

Serves 12

Notes:

  • To make a hearty main course soup, serve in large bowls and add cubes of oven roasted pumpkin, whole cooked prawns, chopped parsley and croutons.
  • Before adding cream you can freeze this soup in one container. To serve, thaw, reheat with the cream and adjust seasoning.
  • You can also freeze it in several smaller plastic containers to use as a delicious sauce with home-made seafood ravioli, pan fried white fish or scallops.

Maggie’s Roast Tomato & Pepper Soup

My friend Maggie made this delicious soup when we were staying with them last year in L’Etang la Ville near Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. Apart from the roasting time, it’s quick to make and with some nice crusty bread – either fresh or toasted – it’s enough for a light supper or lunch. A stick blender is ideal for making this kind of soup where you don’t want it completely smooth.

Maggie's Roast Tomato & Pepper Soup2 large red peppers (capsicums)
4 large ripe tomatoes, or 6 medium, halved
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
1 small red chilli
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs tomato paste
To garnish:
Sour cream or crème fraîche
Chopped fresh basil or pesto

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Remove seeds from peppers and cut into large chunks about the same size as the tomato halves. Place in a bowl with tomatoes, onions, garlic and chilli, both left whole. Add oil, salt and pepper and mix to coat well.

Line a large baking tray with foil and tip the vegetables onto it, spreading them out into a single layer and drizzling with any oil left in the bowl. Roast for 45 mins until starting to brown a bit at the edges. Tip into a large saucepan. Add stock, sugar and tomato paste. Bring to the boil then blend with a stick blender. If you don’t have a stick blender cool the soup a bit and blend in a normal blender then return to the pan. Adjust seasoning to taste and bring to the boil. Serve garnished with sour cream or crème fraîche and some chopped fresh basil or a swirl of pesto.

Serves 4-6

Carrot and Ginger Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Cashews

As the weather in Canberra turned cold and wintry we discovered that our crop of carrots had got out of hand and become humongous. Their fate was sealed.

This is my basic creamy smooth soup recipe which can be adapted for any veggies – parsnip, asparagus (though you may have to sieve the strings out), pumpkin, sweet potato or a mix. The addition of ginger goes particularly well with root vegetables but leave it out if you prefer. Sometimes I add a clove or two of garlic when frying the onion.

If using spinach or broccoli, you might like to add a potato, to give the soup a bit more consistency. You can use leeks instead of onions and top with croutons instead of nuts, or just some chopped parsley. Try using a whole cauliflower (you can use most of the stalk) and serving the soup topped with grated cheese, or a hot slice of toasted cheese on toast, made from a French stick. Instead of ginger, with the green veggies try adding a bit of grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice. Vegetarians can just omit the pancetta.

Make a couple of batches of soup at the weekend, adding everything except the milk, to have ready in the fridge for the week ahead.

Carrot and Ginger Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Cashews

50g butter
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
1.2 kg carrots, peeled and chopped
Chicken or vegetable stock to cover (home-made or use cubes)
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger (or a bit more if you love ginger!)
Milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
4 slices pancetta, prosciutto or similar ham (I used Aldi’s black forest ham)
4 Tbs raw cashew nuts
Finely chopped parsley or coriander
Cream or sour cream

Heat butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook onion gently till soft but not browned. Add carrots, ginger and enough stock to just cover the veggies. Simmer 25 mins or until carrots are cooked. Cool a bit then blend in a blender or food processor until smooth. Recipe can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge for several days.

Put soup back in the pan and add enough milk (or if preferred a mixture of milk and water) to make to desired consistency. Season to taste with S and P. Place pancetta on a tray lined with baking paper and cook in a very hot oven 220ºC for 5-10 mins or until crispy, remove, cool then break into chunks. Toast cashews in a dry frying pan over moderate heat.

Reheat soup and serve garnished with the pancetta, nuts, herbs and a swirl of cream.

Serves 4-6

Quick Gazpacho for Two

Having just picked our first Lebanese cucumber I decided to whip up a quick gazpacho and serve it for lunch 10 minutes later. I have a good recipe which makes several litres and serves a crowd, but it takes more than 10 minutes to make. So I threw the cucumber into the food processor, added some other ingredients until it tasted right, and here it is.

Quick gazpacho for two2 cups tomato passata from a jar
1 small Lebanese cucumber, washed and ends trimmed
¼ cup olive oil
1 thick slice of onion, red or white
1 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of ½ a lemon
Water
To garnish:
Greek yoghurt
1 small or ½ large avocado, diced
Fresh coriander or parsley, roughly chopped with scissors

Place all ingredients except garnish in a food processor and whiz till smooth. Add enough water to make to desired consistency (it won’t need much) and adjust seasoning, then whiz again. Chill until serving time, or if you’re in a hurry just add a couple of ice cubes when you add the water. Divide between two serving bowls. Garnish with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, some diced avocado and chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Optional extra: some home made croutons. You can also add some red capsicum or a touch of fresh chilli. Instead of avocado top with some diced cucumber and/or tomato.

Serves 2

Vichyssoise

Leeks from the gardenThe leek crop started to go woody and needed to be pulled up. As you can see in the photo there were quite a few, so I decided to make Vichyssoise and some mini Leek Quiches to freeze for the holiday season, which I’ll post in a few days. I freeze them uncooked and they are great to whip out and bake when people drop in for a drink.

Some people don’t like cold soups but Vichyssoise is equally nice served hot or cold. It’s one of those traditional French dishes which never goes out of fashion. It freezes well just after blending, before you add the cream. If you want to cut down on the cream, replace half or two thirds of it with milk. It won’t be quite as creamy but still delicious.

Vichyssoise2 kg potatoes
2 leeks or 1 leek and 1 large onion
300 ml cream
6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel and chop potatoes. Wash and chop leeks, keeping all of the white part and some of the green. Place vegetables and stock in large pan, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered for 30 mins or until tender.

Blend soup till smooth in an electric blender then return to pan and stir in cream. If soup is too thick add a little milk to achieve desired consistency, then adjust seasoning. Serve chilled, garnished with snipped chives, a little extra cream and some freshly ground black pepper. Alternatively soup can be reheated, without boiling and served hot, topped, if liked, with a few bits of crispy bacon as shown in the photo.

Serves 6

Spicy Eggplant and Tomato Soup

This soup is quick, easy and satisfying. I invented it one day when I had a friend coming for lunch and one lonely eggplant sitting in the fridge. I just stuck it in the oven and let it cook while I did something else. The final mixing and reheating takes less than 10 minutes.

While the subtle flavour of the eggplant is somewhat overpowered by the tomato, it does provide a nice texture. And the peanut butter, garlic and chilli add an Asian touch to the flavour combination.  I’ve made the recipe with both crunchy and smooth peanut and while they’re both nice I prefer the creamier result you get with the smooth variety. But If you’ve only got crunchy I wouldn’t go out and buy a jar specially.

Spicy Eggplant and Tomato Soup1 large eggplant
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 500g jar tomato sauce for pasta (see note)
1 jar of water (and maybe a bit more)
1 tsp sugar
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
3 Tbs peanut butter
1 small red chilli, seeded and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt
fresh coriander
fresh bread or toast

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Pierce eggplant a couple of times with a knife, so it doesn’t explode in the oven. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until it feels soft when you squeeze it. Halve eggplant and scrape out the flesh into a food processor, discarding skin.

Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Tip into a saucepan and heat to boiling point. Check seasoning and add a bit more water if necessary to make desired consistency. This will depend on how big your eggplant was.

Ladle into soup bowls and top each serving with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt and chopped coriander. Serve with fresh Turkish or sourdough bread or toast.

Serves 4

Note: Most pasta sauces weigh about 500g. I used about two thirds of a 700g jar of Woolworths Home Brand Chunky Pasta Sauce.

Velouté of Jerusalem Artichokes with Mussels

Jerusalem artichokes are fondly known in our house as Fartichokes, for reasons that will be obvious. Once you have them growing in your garden, as we do, you have them forever. They are very hard to eradicate.

When the French explorer Samuel de Champlain discovered this vegetable in South America he sent samples back to France, saying that the flavour reminded him of globe artichokes. The Jerusalem part of the name is a corruption of the Spanish word girasol which means sunflower.

Jerusalem artichokes grow to a height of about two metres and produce a large yellow sunflower. In winter, after they’ve died down, you dig up the tubers which have formed under the plants, like potatoes. They look like very knobbly ginger which makes them a pain to peel, so we don’t bother. Just trim and scrub with a nail brush or similar. Matthew has some Darwinian theory that if he saves and replants only the more uniform tubers, then next year’s crop will be less knobbly. This theory has yet to be proven, but he’s working on it.

This recipe is loosely-based on one by Gordon Ramsey.

Velouté of Jerusalem Artichokes with MusselsSoup:
25g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 kg Jerusalem artichokes, trimmed and scrubbed
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, preferably home-made
1 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mussels:
1 kg mussels in shell, scrubbed and beards removed
25g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
1 sprig fresh thyme
To serve:
Extra cream
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley

Soup: melt butter in a large heavy-based pan and cook the onion, gently, until soft and translucent. Add artichokes and stock and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until tender. Cool a bit then blend in a blender with the cream, until smooth. Put back into a clean saucepan. Can be prepared ahead to this stage.

Mussels: heat butter in a large heavy-based pan and cook onion, gently, until soft and translucent. Add mussels, wine and thyme, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes until mussels have opened and are cooked. Tip into a colander and reserve the liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove mussels from shells.

To serve, add the reserved liquid from the mussels to the soup and check for seasoning. Reheat and ladle into soup bowls. Arrange mussels on top (reheat 30 secs in microwave if they have got cold) and garnish with extra cream, chopped parsley and coarsely ground black pepper.

Serves 4-6

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup with Pesto

On a cold wintery day a bowl of steaming soup hits the spot. I’m not a great fan of blue cheese, eaten on its own, but I do like the more subtle flavour you get when you use it in a soup or salad dressing.

We were recently served a soup like this (without the pesto) at a cocktail party at the Press Club, in small espresso cups. I suspect they added at least 2 cups of cream, which was delicious and okay in such small servings, but not what you want to indulge in for lunch.

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup with Pesto

50g butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 cauliflower, trimmed and cut into pieces (stalks are fine too)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably home-made
1 cup cream
100g Stilton, or another blue cheese
Milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Pesto

Melt butter in a large heavy-based saucepan and cook onion over moderate heat, stirring oven, until soft and translucent. Add cauliflower and stock and simmer for 20 mins or until cauliflower is tender. Cool a bit then blend until smooth in a blender, adding the cream, the blue cheese and some milk to keep things moving. Tip back into the saucepan, adding enough extra milk to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste. Reheat and served topped with a swirl of pesto.

Serves 6