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.


Gratin of Mediterranean Vegetables

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then,
Poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing.

And if he has any sense he’ll make himself up a big batch of this winter-warmer. As the weather starts to take a turn for the worse, this is a great dish to throw together when you’ve just arrived home, wet and cold, from work. You can experiment with the filling too, using whatever you might have in the fridge to save yourself going back out to the shops in the cold! The quantities below serve 2-3.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut an aubergine into 1cm slices, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse to remove the excess salt and pat dry with kitchen paper. Peel a couple of tomatoes and cut into thick slices. Slice a courgette at an angle in 1cm slices.

Drizzle a baking dish with a few spoons of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle in some chopped spring onion and some chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme or marjoram are all lovely in this dish), arrange the aubergine slices alternately with the tomatoes and courgette. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little more oil and sprinkle over some more herbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the crumb topping: melt a knob of butter in a pan and stir in about 50g of soft white breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. When the vegetables are cooked, mixed some grated parmesan in with the buttered crumbs, sprinkle over the top of the vegetables, and brown under the grill before serving.

Beyond the Bottle – Goan Coconut Gobi

This recipe is a really economic way to use up leftovers from three staples of a baby’s diet – cauliflower, broccoli and green beans. Good work Mrs Feast who found the recipe and cooked a delicious dinner! Most of the other ingredients are store-cupboard supplies, so you shouldn’t have to buy too much to make this one-pot wonder. The recipe comes from the BBC website, and is a traditional Indian vegetable dish.

Pumpkin and Rosemary Muffins

These savoury muffins were a flavoursome accompaniment to the Pumpkin and Chilli Soup, as well as being an economic solution to using up leftover pumpkin at Hallowe’en! The baking paper cases can be a bit fiddly, but you can just use normal muffin cases if you prefer. Lorraine Pascale does use the word “scrumbunctiousness” to describe these in her Baking Made Easy book, which is a pretty good point of reference for their moist, light texture.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut out 12 squares of baking paper, approx 14x14cm each. Oil the muffin tin and push the squares down into each hole so the paper sticks up. The squares of paper have a habit of popping up out of the holes, which is OK for now as once the muffin mixture is spooned in the squares will stay down.

In a large bowl, sift 180g self-raising flour, 130g wholemeal flour, 1 tsp baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda together, then stir in a good pinch of salt and 3 sprigs of rosemary, very finely chopped. Put aside the wholemeal husks that will be left in sieve, as these will be sprinkled over the top of the muffins.

In a medium bowl, mix 160g of cooked pumpkin (cut into .5cm dice), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 100ml plain yoghurt, 275ml milk, 3 big squidges of honey and 60ml vegetable oil – stir well until they are all combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and, using a large spoon and about 8 turns, mix all the ingredients together. It does not take much to over-mix muffins at this stage and although the end result will still taste sublime the texture will not be as tender. Leave the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then spoon into the paper cases.

Sprinkle the leftover wholegrain flour, 80g of diced pumpkin, and a few pumpkin seeds over the muffins. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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.


Beyond The Bottle – Perfect Potato Rosti

Considered by many Swiss people as their national dish, the basic rosti consists of nothing but potato, and is mostly served as an accompaniment to other dishes.

Potatoes are such a versatile vegetable that you have a huge variety of options for how to use surplus spuds when cooking them for babies. The Guardian ran a great article during the week about how to cook the perfect potato rosti. Parboiling, then chilling and THEN grating the potatoes makes a big difference as the finished rosti loses the raw potato taste, but be careful not to over boil them or you could end up with more of a mashed potato cake then a traditional rosti – when cooked you still want to be able to recognize the grated strands of potato. Cooking with goose fat is a great indulgence (and I recommend using it to cook your roast potatoes too!), but if you don’t have a jar of goose fat, then use a spoon of olive oil with the butter instead – the oil will stop the butter burning.

Beyond the Bottle – Green Beans; Swede

When they start eating solid foods, babies can only eat tiny little portions of pureed fruit or vegetables at a time (1-2 tablespoons to begin with). In some cases it makes sense to steam or boil a large amount and then freeze individual pureed portions of foods that they will eat regularly (like Sweet Potato and Apple/Pear). But invariably you’ll still be left with excess fruit or vegetables in the fridge – if you want to avoid waste you can manage your own meals very easily to efficiently use the same food for both babies and adults.

For the first few months of eating solid food a baby has a very simple diet of pureed fruit and vegetables, so the opportunities to make anything for yourself is limited to using single ingredients. As the baby grows and their palate develops,  they start to eat more complex foods like fish and pastas, which gives you more scope to make similar interesting meals for yourself.

We have accompanied this goulash dish with green beans and mashed swede.

For the green beans, top and tail them, and remove the strings if there are any. Wash them, then put them in a saucepan and cover with freshly boiled water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until tender. Remove enough from the pan as per your babies requirements, and puree using a little of the water to get the right consistency. Allow to cool before feeding your baby. The remaining green beans in the pan can be served immediately with your own meal.

Wash the swede, then peel and cut it into cubes. As per the beans, put it in a saucepan and cover with freshly boiled water. Bring to the boil, cover, then lower the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the pan and puree to a smooth consistency. Remove and put aside enough for your babies meal, and then add butter and pepper to the remaining swede to make a silky accompaniment to meat dishes. According to Nigel Slater, any other swede recipe is probably a waste of time.

Here’s Moveable Feast Jr enjoying his sweet potato and green bean dinner!