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!)
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
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


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 butter 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
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
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:

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

Pumpkin Soup with Chorizo

This year we successfully grew our own pumpkins for the first time, on our property Woodlands. We only harvested six and the one in the photo is the biggest. Next season we will try to plant them earlier and see if we can do better. The good thing about pumpkins is that they keep for several months without refrigeration, until you cut into them.

Pumpkin Soup with Chorizo2 Tbs olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 kg pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or use a cube and water)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup cream or sour cream
2 Tbs pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
1 chorizo, casing removed, finely diced (see variations below)
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy-based pan and cook onion and garlic, stirring often, until softened. Add pumpkin, carrots, stock, cumin and paprika and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Allow to cool a bit then blend soup in a blender until smooth. Soup can be stored in the fridge at this stage for up to 3 days, covered.

Fry chorizo in a frying pan without oil for 3-4 mins, stirring, until browned. Reheat soup with cream and season to taste. If it’s a bit too thick add some milk. Serve soup garnished with pumpkin seeds, chorizo and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with fresh bread or toast.

Variations: instead of chorizo use pepperoni or bacon. If you don’t have smoked paprika use ordinary.

Serves 4

Thai Chicken Soup

When we go to Europe to visit friends and family we usually spend a week in Thailand on the way home. All that galloping around seeing people and having a good time, not to mention all that eating, is exhausting. Breaking the journey allows us to adjust to most of the time difference and arrive feeling refreshed. We love the Thai people, the food and the wonderfully therapeutic massages.

This soup is quite filling, so it’s a main-course or lunch time kind of soup rather than a starter. On the table in less than half an hour, it’s full of delicious contrasting flavours and textures.

Thai Chicken Soup1 large onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs curry paste (preferably Thai Green or Red, but any will do)
About 400g raw chicken meat (breasts or thighs) finely sliced
1 tin coconut milk (400ml)
1 litre water and 1 chicken stock cube (or use homemade chicken stock)
2-3 heaped tsp grated ginger
2 stalks lemon grass, finely sliced (optional)
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs palm sugar or brown sugar
2 Tbs Fish Sauce
Juice one lime or ½ large lemon
200g quick cooking Chinese noodles (see note)
2-3 thinly sliced spring onions – white and some of the green part
1 cup beansprouts
½ cup fresh, roughly chopped, coriander
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and cook onion until soft but not brown, stirring often. Add curry paste and chicken and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients down as far as the lime or lemon juice. Simmer for a few minutes until chicken is cooked. Add salt to taste, then turn off the heat and add the noodles and spring onions. Cover and leave to stand 2-3 minutes. Place a small handful of beansprouts in 4 large soup bowls. Ladle soup on top and garnish with coriander.

Serves 4

Note: any quick-cook noodles will do, including individual packs of instant noodles.

Pea & Ham Soup

David and Amy brought a delicious glazed ham to our Christmas celebrations. When we finished it I froze the bone and today, in early March when the weather is much cooler, I’m using it in a good old-fashioned Pea and Ham soup. Growing up under the influence of my mother’s “war mentality” makes it hard for me to throw away anything which could be turned into a meal.

This soup will “warm the cockles of your heart”. Having typed that I thought “what a strange expression” and decided to look it up.

One site which explains such expressions says: Something that warms the cockles of one’s heart induces a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion. What gets warmed is the innermost part of one’s being. The Oxford Dictionary simply says it means to give one a comforting feeling of contentment. 

There are all sorts of theories as to the origins of this saying, the most popular being that the ventricles of the heart are shaped like cockles, a popular shellfish when I was growing up in England. We used to buy them doused with malt vinegar at seaside resorts on the south coast, such as Margate and Ramsgate. It took an hour to get there by train, but in summer we often went to the coast for two weeks and stayed in a bungalow or caravan in Leysdown or Seasalter.

As kids we thought a trip to the seaside was heaven. There was candy floss and pink and white striped sticks of candy which was called rock – an appropriate name as you just about broke your teeth eating it. And there were amusement parks, where you could scare yourself to death on the roller coaster or win a hideous pink teddy bear on the shooting range. The water was always freezing but we swam anyway and came home with sand stuck to everything. Happy days.

I was never very fond of cockles or whelks (sea snails) preferring the juicy pink shrimps also sold on the seafood stalls. An even smaller shellfish called a winkle had a tiny body which had to be removed from its shell with a pin – a tedious task, which is probably why I didn’t like them. My mother loved them. Sometimes we took some home and she ate them for tea, with brown bread and butter.

I am pleased that the “war mentality” gene has been passed on to our three offspring and their partners who also run households with my mother’s motto “waste not want not.”

Pea & Ham Soup1 cup yellow split peas
1 ham bone (see note below)
About 2 litres chicken stock, preferably home made
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, coriander or thyme

Wash peas and soak overnight or for several hours in cold water, then drain. Put peas and stock in large pan with ham bone and simmer 2 hrs with a lid. Add vegetables, herbs and simmer for half an hour. Remove ham bone and cut off any meat. Cut it into small pieces and put it back into the soup. Add more water if soup has become too thick and check seasoning. Reheat soup and serve topped with chopped fresh herbs and some crusty bread.

Serves 6-8

Note: if you don’t have a ham bone, most supermarkets sell ham hocks or meaty bacon bones which can be used instead.