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.

Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Cashews

When I was growing up in England we had swedes, parsnips and turnips, but I never saw sweet potatoes or pumpkin. So I didn’t try either of these vegetables until I married and moved to Australia in 1975. I quickly became a big fan of both – in soups, roasted, mashed – I love their sweet earthy flavours and satisfying textures.

February is usually the hottest month in Canberra, but this year we have had some cool, wet days. And this weekend, the first in March, is positively autumnal. After several months of salads a bowl of soup goes down well for lunch on a cool day, with a slice or two of toast.

I made this soup with sweet potato, but pumpkin would work equally well. Two year old granddaughter Natalia, who had hers without the toppings, had fun finding the chick peas which she called “chippies”.

Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Cashews

25g butter
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup white wine
4 cups (1 litre) vegetable stock
About 2 cups milk
1 can chickpeas, drained
Hot pepper sauce (see note below)
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
Sour cream or thick plain yoghurt
¾ cup unsalted cashew nuts
small piece of butter
2-3 Tbs chopped fresh oregano, marjoram or coriander
Hot pepper sauce (see note below)

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until soft but not brown. Add sweet potato, wine and stock and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender. Meanwhile heat a small piece of butter in a small frying pan and cook the cashew nuts, stirring, until browned.

Blend soup in a blender until smooth, adding enough milk to make desired consistency. Put soup back into a saucepan with the chickpeas and ginger, adding hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Reheat soup and serve in soup bowls garnished with a dollop of sour cream, some cashews, chopped herbs and a drizzle of hot pepper sauce.

Serves 6

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato; pecan nuts instead of cashews.

Note: If you can find a smoky hot pepper sauce such as Montezuma’s Smoky Chipotle sauce, this is ideal. Have a look in the Mexican food section of your supermarket and see what they have. If you can’t find a smoky one use Tabasco or Peri Peri sauce.

Elin’s Gazpacho

In hot weather Gazpacho, a chilled soup which originated in Andalucia in southern Spain, makes a perfect lunch or starter. I’ve tried quite a few recipes, but one of the best versions was served for lunch by my Danish friend Elin, while we were living in Copenhagen. I remember thinking how delicious it was (better than my recipe!) and how snazzy the croutons looked cut into soldiers. Elin has given permission for me to share her recipe with my readers.

Gazpacho should be made when you have tomatoes in the garden or can buy local ones in the market. Supermarket tomatoes which have been refrigerated won’t taste the same.

This recipe has quite a few ingredients so it’s not a five minute job. But the effort is well worth it. If preferred leave out the chilli altogether.

Elin's Gazpacho

4 large red capsicums (peppers)
2 chillies (preferably peperoncino)
1½ kg good quality vine-ripened tomatoes
10 semi-dried tomatoes
200ml extra virgin olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, depending on size, crushed
4 Tbs vinegar (preferably sherry)
1 bunch fresh basil
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 small cucumbers
1 loaf day-old Italian bread
2-3 Tbs sugar (depends on sweetness of the tomatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
1 red capsicum (pepper)
1 small cucumber
Extra virgin olive oil
The rest of the bread made into croutons

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place a piece of foil on a baking tray and place capsicum and chillies on top (saves washing up). Bake until blackened, then cool, peel and remove seeds. If they are difficult to peel you haven’t cooked them long enough. The chillies being smaller will need to come out much earlier – they are a bit fiddly to peel so just removed stalk and seeds.

Meanwhile pour boiling water over the tomatoes in two bowls, leave for 2 minutes then tip away water, peel and remove hard cores.

In a blender puree the capsicum, tomatoes, dried tomatoes, peeled cucumbers, chilli, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, basil leaves, 3-4 slices of bread with crusts removed and oil. You will have to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Taste and add sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Chill several hours or preferably overnight.

To serve: If soup is a bit too thick add a little iced water then pour into a soup tureen or ladle into individual bowls. Add some ice cubes (optional) and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with the following side dishes so people can help themselves – peeled and diced cucumber, with some skin left on (to add some dark green colour) and diced capsicum. Make croutons from the rest of the loaf of bread – cut bread into “soldiers”, spray or brush with olive oil and bake until golden. For those who like spicier food you can serve some extra chopped chillies, but it was hot enough for my liking – probably because I used birds eye chillies rather than peperoncino which are much milder!

Serves 12

Note: sun-dried tomatoes as opposed to semi-dried tomatoes tend to be rather dark in colour which will result in a brownish gazpacho. So best to use semi-dried or leave them out altogether.

Chilled Carrot and Orange Soup

On a very hot day you can’t beat a bowl of ice cold soup. Not everybody will agree with me on this – chilled soups are something you either like or you don’t.  My Dad didn’t like them, even though he was quite adventurous, loved Asian food and most of the things I put in front of him.

The best known cold soups are probably Spanish gazpacho and Russian Borscht, a soup made with beetroot which can be served hot or cold and which is popular in many Middle European countries. I have about three other favourite recipes including this one for Carrot and Orange. The soup is equally delicious served hot.

Chilled Carrot and Orange Soup

500-600g carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
25g butter
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1½ – 2 cups orange juice (fresh or from a carton)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar
Finely chopped fresh dill and cream to garnish

Cook onion in butter till soft, add carrots, stock, sugar and simmer until tender. Blend till smooth in blender, add orange juice to reach desired consistency, check seasoning and chill.  Serve garnished with dill and a swirl of cream. Can be served hot.

Serves 6

Variation: for a creamier soup replace ½ cup of the orange juice with cream.

Blanca’s Chilled Avocado Soup

This recipe comes from my dear friend Blanca Bulnes who lives in Santiago but spent 4 years in Canberra when her husband was the Chilean Ambassador to Australia.  It’s quick and easy to make and perfect for a warm summer’s day.

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
4 large avocados
1 cup thick Greek yoghurt
½ cup cream
1 Tbs grated onion
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tsp ground cumin (not in original recipe but if you like cumin it makes a nice addition)
To serve:
chopped parsley, or toasted slivered almonds or red pepper puree (see below)

Home made chicken stock is best for this recipe.  Leave it in the fridge to chill, then remove any fat from the surface.  Otherwise make up a litre of stock using a cube. Vegetarians can use vegetable stock.

In a food processor mix avocado flesh with yoghurt, cream and some of the stock.  Scrape into a bowl and add remaining ingredients.   Chill for several hours or overnight. Serve garnished with chopped parsley or toasted slivered almonds or a drizzle of red capsicum/pepper puree.

Red Pepper Puree: place 2 capsicums on an oven tray and spray with oil.  Place under a very hot grill until slightly blackened and blistered, then turn and grill the other side.  Cover loosely with foil and leave until cool enough to handle.  Remove skin, seeds and membranes then blitz in a food processor with enough olive oil to make a smooth red paste.  Store covered in the fridge.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

I borrowed a cook book from the library last week called Five of the Best by Valli Little.  It was printed to celebrate five years of the Australian food magazine Delicious.  I read cookbooks the way some people read novels and by the time I had finished going through the recipes I had decided to buy a copy so I ordered one from the ABC bookshop.  So far I’ve made several dishes including Tuna Stuffed Capsicum, Cauliflower Cheese Soup, Baked Eggplant with Goat Cheese and Cream and Thai Pumpkin Soup – all very good.  We’re not vegetarians, but sometimes I think it makes a nice change to skip meat for a few days.  Here’s the Pumpkin Soup recipe.

Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Pesto

2 bunches fresh coriander, roots trimmed
(a few leaves reserved for garnish)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
4 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger (I used a bit more)
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste
1 kg pumpkin, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 cups (500ml) vegetable or chicken stock
400ml can light coconut milk
thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced red
chilli, to garnish

To make the pesto place coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor.  Process adding 3 Tbs oil to make a sauce consistency, season to taste.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium head.  Add onion and stir for a minute.  Add ginger and curry paste and stir for a minute.  Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer 15 minutes or until pumpkin is cooked.  Cool a bit then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add coconut milk and season, then warm through.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a swirl of pesto, some onion, chilli and reserved coriander leaves.

Serves 6

Note: to make a more substantial meal, serve with croutons or toast.