Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fennel and Almond Soup

I came across this soup by chance in a tea room at work. A tea room in a department that I don't usually inhabit. And one of the people there was eating a home made soup. Of course I had to know what it was. It turned out to be this soup, and my interest was naturally piqued. It seemed like fate. I had never had almond soup, but seen quite a few recipes over the years. Ajo Blanco is a famous Spanish chilled almond soup that I've really been wanting to make for some time. Seems I forget about it each summer though. I will have to make at some stage as part of my Delia quest, maybe this summer I'll get to it? Delia's Ajo Blanco (even the name sounds exotic) is made from whole almonds, and I presumed that this one would be too, but it doesn't, it uses almond meal instead. So I still haven't tried a proper almond soup....

Fennel and Almond Soup with Green Olive Smash
Serves 4-6
delicious August 2010

Gently warming, but not cooking, the olive smash really enhances the flavour

2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fennel bulbs, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3/4 cup (90gm)

Olive Smash

1 cup (130gm) large green olives, pitted
1/4 cup (50gm) salted capers, rinsed, drained
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
2 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Heat a large frypan over medium heat.
Toast fennel seeds for 2 minutes, stirring, until fragrant.

Add the olive oil and heat for 1 minute, then add the onion, garlic, fennel and celery. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until just tender, then add almond meal and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Pour over hot stock, reduce heat to medium, then simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste. Cool slightly, then puree with a hand blender, or in batches in a blender, until smooth.

Meanwhile, for the olive smash, pound the olives, capers and garlic in a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste. Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in small saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the olive mixture and stir for 1-2 minutes until just heated through. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, parsley and remaining oil.

Pass the soup through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan, then stir over medium heat for 1-2 minutes to warm through.

Serve the soup in warmed bowls, topped with the olive smash and a drizzle of oil.

I remembered to my horror with my first taste of the soup that I REALLY don't like fennel seeds. I had of course known this previously, but clearly had some selective cognitive deficit whilst reading the recipe, preparing to make this soup, and then whilst making the soup. So given that this has 2 tsps of toasted fennel seeds, it was a bit like fennel seed soup. I usually quite like a fennel soup, but this one wasn't one of my favourites, and I don't think I'll be making it again. But there was the whole fate thing, AND I'd gone out to find the magazine especially so I could make this. I'd invested too much to give up.

I think olives are disgusting and inedible so I didn't make the green olive smash. I think that if you did like olives then it would lift the soup. Which it could probably use.

My hand blender always seems to struggle with fennel. I don't know if it's my somewhat antique hand blender now, or if it's just a typical result of fennel vs hand blender. Still it didn't make a particularly pleasing smooth texture. It was sort of course. I can never bother to dirty the proper blender once I've already dirtied the hand blender so didn't bother, and just ate it all week for work lunches as it was.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spicy Cream of Pumpkin Soup- Soup Hall of Fame

I don't know how many years I've been making this soup. At least 10 I suspect. I've been very devoted to it, and it has repaid me well. It's luscious, and unctuous, and tastes fabulous. For some reason I've always used Queensland Blue as the pumpkin in this soup, while my favourite pumpkin variety is actually Jap. I must try this one day with Jap, or even butternut I suspect.

As with any soup that you've made over and over things are often a little different each time. This time I used a different brand of coconut milk. I spied some organic light coconut milk at the supermarket that I hadn't tried (in anything) before. It was actually quite a bit creamier than the brand of light coconut milk that I normally buy, and to my horror I found this weeks version of the soup almost too creamy in the end! That brand would be fantastic in the coconut rice pudding I've been making this winter though. Oh, now there's a thought.

I'm not an organic devotee, but will buy organic when I can. It's got to be good for us, and the planet, not to be using dreadful chemicals and insecticides to grow our food. I also bought some local saffron when I saw that in the local produce shop. Again, I do like to support local people, and try to avoid food miles whenever I can. I won't buy asparagus flown in from Peru for instance, or cherries from America in the middle of our winter. It's so much nicer when it's our local asparagus, in season. It tastes better. It's not always cheaper, but often is. But local produce does have a much better flavour, from being fresher, and not having flown half way around the world at great cost, and great use of resources. Australian law requires that our fruit and veg shops label all their wares with the country of origin. I think that's a great step forward for helping us to buy seasonal food, that nutritious, fresh and cheap, and also low on air miles. And even though thinking about this is a quagmire, the BBC advises that local is greener than organic.

So I was quite pleased to find locally grown saffron in the shops. Most of the saffron available in Australia is from the Kashmir or Iran. Not totally around the world, but far enough. I guess saffron is as light as fairy dust so the fuel usage wouldn't be all that much to transport it here? I was vaguely unhappy about paying $9 for a very small packet, but indeed it did seem the only source of saffron available in my small town last weekend. I was even more unhappy when I got home and realised that my packet weighed 100mg. So my $9, whilst not completely over the top, meant that I was in effect paying $90,000/kg! I nearly choked when I worked that out. So how much is the Kashmiri stuff that I normally buy from Herbie's? (And if you don't buy your spices from Herbie's you should, they have wonderful stuff). I was again rather shocked to work out that it was $23,000/kg. But that does pale into insignificance against $90,000/kg. Indeed, it almost seems cheap....Is Australian saffron the most expensive substance on earth? I see that gold is a mere $43,568.73/kg today. So this saffron was twice as expensive as gold. I wonder how much a kilo of uranium goes for? OMG. It's about $100 USD per kilo! How can that be? Why isn't uranium $90,000/kg, and saffron for soup makers a paltry $100/kg? Given the extraordinary price tag of this saffron I decided to soak it in water to release the flavour and colour (I don't usually do this step, though it does plump it up and make it look nice).

This soup is from Dorinda Hafner's Dorinda's Taste of the Caribbean. It is the only recipe that I have made from this book. There is a rather tempting Blaff (Caribbean Fish Soup) on the facing page, but I've somehow never got around to making it. The pumpkin soup is in the Guadeloupe section, and Dorinda introduces it thus:

Pumpkin is one of the vegetables I saw used most often in the Caribbean. The thick-skinned vegetables with vivid yellow insides are everywhere in the Caribbean. They are so fresh and sweet, it is little wonder they are so popular in many local dishes. This one is a simple soup with a spicy touch.

Spicy Cream of Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup (57g/59ml) butter or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp seeded chopped Scotch bonnet chilli
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered saffron
1/4 tsp allspice
4 cups coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 carrots, cleaned and chopped into bite-sized chunks
4 pounds (1.8 kg) pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized chunks
4-6 sprigs parsley, for garnish
2 tbls light (single) cream, for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter or heat the oil over a medium heat and saute the garlic, onion, and chilli until the onion looks transparent, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the spices and coconut milk (or stock, if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the carrots and pumpkin, partially cover the pan, and bring the mixture to the boil. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are soft and cooked, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from the heat, leave to cool down a little (about 10 minutes), then puree in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot to gently heat through. Do not allow the soup to boil.

When the soup is heated through, remove the pan from the heat and ladle equal quantities into warmed soup bowls. Place a small, decorative sprig of parsley in the centre of each bowl and swirl a little cream in a small circle around the parsley. Serve hot with bread.


I make quite a number of changes to this soup, in method mainly, not ingredients.

I always saute the onion first, then add the garlic later. Why is it home cooks have trouble with garlic burning, but chefs don't?

I alwas add the spices and stir until fragrant before adding the coconut milk. And why wouldn't you, this smells amazing:

Mr Soup doesn't like spicy food, and neither does Soup Jr, so I've never added the chilli.

I do use the stock as well as the coconut milk.

I've never bothered garnishing it with anything. It's good enough by itself. So good that I forgot to take a photo of the finished soup!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lentilles Corail au Lait de Coco et Citron Vert

Last weekends soup was a special one. My new French soup cookbook was nagging away at me, so I had to use it, and soon. Anne-Catherine Bley's soupes du jour. Bley runs a wonderful soup cafe in Paris- Le Bar à soupes- know I find out! Grrr. Still at least I have the book. And much as I love soups it wasn't peak soup weather when we were in Paris recently, it was far too hot to want anything except icecream. I have been to Paris in the spring and the summer now, perhaps next time will be in cooler weather?

Bley's book is filled with wonderful sounding French soups. I was interested to see that she does indeed have a recipe for pumpkin soup (veloute de potiron), which has 5 variations. Interesting because the French rather famously don't like pumpkin all that much, and are said to see it as only fit for feeding to pigs. Perhaps I'm miss informed. Perhaps it's changing, I don't know. Actually she even has a separate recipe for veloute de potimarron au bacon. From what I can google up potimarron is a specific variety of pumpkin, or perhaps a squash. She also includes an intriguing recipe for courgettes a la Vache quit rit (which soupsong charmingly describes as the housewife's favourite soup cheese!). I know I'll need to try that soon.

But for my first excursion into the book I picked the Lentilles Corail au Lait de Coco et Citron Vert (Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Lime). It was a perfect choice. Quick to cook up. Tasty. Nutritious. It made a delicious work lunch, that staved away the hunger all afternoon, and it gave me an excuse to buy some coconut milk. I had rather a brainwave, bought a bigger tin than I needed and used the rest of it to make coconut rice pudding, which was so good I had to make it this weekend as well.

The book is in French, so I'll present the recipe here that way too. If anyone is keen to make it, and your French isn't quite up to it, then let me know and I'll translate it as best I can for you.

Lentilles Corail au Lait de Coco et Citron Vert

200g de lentilles corail
1 petite boie de tomate pelees (300g)
1 gros oignon
1 belle gousse d'ail
1 c. a c. de cumin en poudre
1/2 c. a c. de canelle en poudre
1 L d'eau
le jus de 1 citron vert
10cl de lait de coco
1 c. a s. d'huile d'olive
sel, poivre

1. Eplucher et emincer l'oignon et l'ail. Les faire revenir 5 minutes avec les epices, a feu doux, dans l'huile d'olive.

2. Ajouter les lentilles et les tomates. Bien remuer et ajouter l'eau. Saler et poivrer.

3. Porter a ebullition puis diminuer a feu doux et laisser cuire 30 minutes environ en remant de temps en temps, jusqu'a ce que les lentilles soient parfaitement cuites.

4.Hors de feu, ajouter le lait de coco et le jus de citron vert. Mixer finement. Rectifier l'assaisonnement avant de servir.

It is impossible to buy a 300gm tin of tomatoes in Australia. So I used our standard tin (420gm I think)

I love that the French use the term "belle gousse d'ail", literally a beautiful clove of garlic, although apparently the usage signifies a good size rather than strict beauty.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Soups of the World - Paris

Paris. Home of cuisine, and perhaps even the ancestral home of soup. The French have many names for soup of course-potage, veloute, bisque, bouillon, consomme.

A lunch at the famous Angelina's, on Rue de Rivoli right across from the beautiful Tuileries garden. I wouldn't normally order a tomato gazpacho, but it really was very hot most of the time we were in Paris, and it really suited the day. I liked the hidden avocado layer at the bottom too, that was a bonus. Plus I wasn't that hungry, was looking for a light lunch, that would allow the de-rigeur verre de rose that ladies who lunch must have, and still allow room for dessert. Parfait.

Another wonderful lunch, indeed this was the best lunch of the trip- my birthday lunch at Le Jules Verne on the second level of Le Tour Eiffel. And what a magnificent occasion it was too. Unsurpassed views during lunch, our window edge table was perfectly situated overlooking the Seine, looking toward the Trocadero. I could also see eastwards to where the Statue of Liberty holds her flame aloft in the Parisian sky. Our amuse bouche was a little serving of a tomato soup. Again two tone, with a green layer on the bottom, which seemed more zucchini (although probably strictly speaking courgette here, rather than zucchini), and there were crunchy chunks of raw vegies drifting in the tomato layer. Is this soup particularly common in France, or was it totally coincidence to have two versions within a few days of each other, was one copying the other?

Veloute de crustaces au fumet de champignons et cerfeuil (Shellfish velvety soup with mushrooms and chervil). I'm glad that I hadn't had any experience with the CWA Velvet Soup at this point, and that I was able to languish in this extraordinary soup for my entree (in the Australian sense, ie first course, not main meal) at Le Jules Verne. It was glorious, so much so that I could completely overcome my disdain of foam. The sort of soup that it takes a restaurant staffed with apprentices to turn out. Full, robust shellfish flavour. Home cooks rarely make shellfish stocks which is a pity as they are magnificent. I know I have never made a shellfish stock at home. Indeed I've only ever made a fish stock at home once, and it was at least 10 years ago, but I still remember the extraordinary dish that results from my (rather minimal it must be said) efforts.

A dinner this time at the world renown Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Sadly the experience as a whole was a bit disappointing, more so for Mr Soup than for me as it turns out. He had been anticipating it more than I had, being a Robuchon fan from way back, and the weight of expectation can be heavy indeed. The execution of every course was perfect, unfortunately a number of them didn't have the flavour impact that should come from a restaurant with such a reputation and background. Our amuse bouche was a carrot soup. I don't think I've ever had a soup with a finer texture, I'd love to know how they did it. But that little bit of soup frippery on the side was Extraordinary. It not only looked beautiful, but also tasted amazing. If you look very hard you can see the strategically placed grains of salt on the far right of the wafer. It really was delicate, nuanced, subtle and like nothing else I'd ever had before.

I don't really buy all that many cookbooks any more. I can even (gasp) admit that I possibly have too many. Still I did buy (just) one in France. And of course it was a soup book. I'd been searching in a disorganised way for a while and had nearly given up on finding one that I liked, until I found this one buried on the third floor of Au Printemps near the bizzarely placed icecream counter that they had there. It has some wonderful and intriguingly French sounding soups that I shall make at some time in the future. Soupe Archedoise au chou, chataignes et lardons (Soup from the Archedoise with cabbage, chestnuts and bacon). Lentilles corail au lait de coco et citron vert (Red Lentil Soup with coconut milk and Lime) Soupe froide de courgettes, gingembre et citron confit (Cold Zucchini Soup with Ginger and Preseved Lemon). Strange how they all sound better in the French isn't it? I wonder if I need to try and attack the whole book much like my Delia project? I suspect I might want to try.

My final Parisian soup was a surprising one, on our very last night in Paris. We had a wonderful meal by the banks of the Seine. The World Cup was in full swing and there was a big game on that night, probably a semi-final, I may know if I had paid any attention- I think it was Germany and Spain, so there was a wonderful atmosphere in the bar behind us. It was certainly Spain and someone. Anyway, after a wonderful entree of smoked salmon blinis (still warm, oooh) washed down with Bolli and then honey duck main with a wonderful red, I spied a strawberry soup on the menu- there was no other choice. It's reasonably rare to come across a fruit soup, at least in Australia, I've had one or two before, and they'd been delicious, so I really couldn't go past this one, and I wasn't disappointed. It was light and refreshing but with a real strawberry taste. It was really quite a big bowl of soup, and I didn't finish it- we did have to fit in a final taste of Berthillon after all.