Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.


Beyond the Bottle – Minestrone Soup

There is no set recipe for Minestrone soup. At it’s essence it is an Italian mixed vegetable soup containing pasta or rice, and is usually made with whatever vegetables are in season. It is generally thought that Minestrone orginated in Genoa, where it is made with pumpkin, cabbage, fava beans, courgettes, kidney beans, celery and tomatoes, and garnished with three different types of pasta. However, the earliest origins of vegetable-based soup can be traced back to Marcus Apicius’s ancient cookbook De Re Coquinaria, which describes a Roman soup dating back to 30AD which contains a similar mix of pulses and seasonal vegetables.

Whatever the history of the dish, a good Minestrone soup, served with some crusty bread, can be served as a meal in itself. It is also a great way to use up leftover vegetables at the end of the week, especially if you have been preparing carrot or potato-based purees fro young children, and are wondering how best to use the remaining ingredients.

This particular recipe for Minestrone comes from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals, but feel free to substitute whatever vegetable that are in season that you might have to hand (I left out the cabbage in my version). These quantities will serve 4-6.


2 tbsp olive oil

150g (5oz) bacon, cut into approx 2cm dice

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large tomatoes, chopped

100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) red wine

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock

Pinch of sugar

1 x 400g tin of cannellini or flageolot beans, drained and rinsed

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

1 potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

1 stick of celery, trimmed and cut into 1cm dice

1/4 small cabbage, such as Savoy, cross removed and leaves shredded crossways

75g (3oz) dried spaghetti, broken into pieces

1 tsp chopped thyme leaves

2 tsp chopped parsley

4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve


Pour half the olive oil into a large saucepan on a high heat and, when hot, add the bacon and fry for 4 minutes or until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining olive oil and stir in the onion and the garlic. Season with salt (but not too much as the bacon will be salty) and pepper and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the onion is soft but not browned.

Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine and stock and season with salt (again, not too much) and a pinch of sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the beans and carrots, bring back up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, then add the potato and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Season with a little more salt, then add the celery, cabbage and spaghetti. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is tender, then remove from the heat and stir in the herbs and Parmesan cheese.

Taste for seasoning and serve with some more freshly grated Parmesan cheese scattered over the top.


Cream of Pumpkin and Chilli Soup with Glazed Pumpkin Seeds, Croutons and Chives

I have two pumpkins to carve this year, so that means loads of tasty pumpkin flesh to make a variety of dishes for this Hallowe’en. First up is a pumpkin soup, from a recipe that appeared in the October 2011 issue of Food and Wine Magazine. Kashmiri Chilli is recommended for this dish, but you can use any mild chilli. This soup is quite hot and spicy, so adjust the amount of chilli as per your preference.

In a large thick-bottomed pot, melt 100g butter over a low-medium heat. Add the flesh from a large pumpkin (or two medium pumpkins) , a peeled and finely chopped clove of garlic, and 4 peeled and finely chopped shallots. Allow to sweat gently in the butter without getting any colour for about 6-7 minutes, or until the edges of the pumpkin pieces are starting to soften nicely.

Add 2 tsp of dried Kashmiri chilli, 2 tsp of ground coriander and 1 tsp turmeric powder and cook for a further minute. Add 1 litre of vegetable stock and cook for 5 minutes more.

Add 200ml cream, 30g grated parmesan and 1 tsp black pepper, then bring just to the boil and remove from the heat. Pour the soup into a food processor or whizz with a hand-blender to a smooth consistency.

Dry roast the seeds in a non-stick pan until just toasted. Cut a handful of stale bread into small cubes and gently fry in about 250ml of rapeseed oil (I used olive oil) until they’re golden brown, then season with fresh pepper and salt.

Pour the soup into bowls then sprinkle the top with croutons, seeds and finely chopped chives.


Trick or Treat!

The problem with carving a pumpkin is what to do with the flesh you’ve removed. This year I made a Curried Pumpkin Soup (recipe from The Irish Independent Weekend Supplement, 23 October 2010):

Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Chop up two large carrots, 600g pumpkin flesh, 2 sticks celery and a large sweet potato – place them on a roasting tray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Heat a large saucepan gently with a little oil. Add half a medium onion, a leek, two cloves of garlic and a rounded teaspoon of curry paste and pan fry for six to eight minutes to infuse with flavour.

Next, add the roasted vegetables to the onion and garlic mixture. Pour inĀ 1200ml chicken stock at this stage and allow the mixture to come to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until all of the vegetables are fully softened. Add 75ml cream, season, and blitz to a smooth puree. Return to the heat and reheat gently. Garnish with a spoon of creme fraiche and some pumpkin seeds.