How many times have I talked or written about or extolled the virtues of chicken soup? Too many and yet not often enough. It is the very best thing. Soothing, rich but not heavy, and receptive to so many things. Chicken noodle soup loves to be just itself, but is also loves spice, a little curry, and most vegetables deal very well with being here. It is fond of carbs, as we all are. I adore a noodle but some pumpkin is beautiful in here too. Soft and slippery but still firm, and full of the gorgeous flavour of the chicken broth that it has cooked in.
This post is produced in partnership with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio. I needed little persuasion. Parmesan is one of my absolute favourite ingredients and I have visited many Parmesan dairies over several trips to Emilia Romagna.
Emilia Romagna is a favourite place to visit. I go most years, to Bologna, to Modena, to Parma. I still have places to visit like Ferrara, and I will continue to return. I adore the food, and the people.
Emilia Romagna is known as the belly of Italy and for good reason. The people of Emilia Romagna have a joie de vivre when it comes to life, and especially when it comes to eating. It is home to tagliatelle al ragu, passatelli, tortellini al brodo and lots of other hearty foods. Some of my favourite wines are made here too, the underrated lambrusco, a sparkling red wine served chilled, and perfect for the foods of the region. It is also home to the Italian food products that we are most familiar with. Salumi comes from here (there is even a salumi museum) and Emilia Romagna is the home of Parma ham, balsamic vinegar of Modena and parmigiano reggiano (aka Parmesan).
This soup won’t solve all of your problems, but it will come pretty close. On a day that requires it, this soup will warm you up from your toes to your fingertips. Especially on a gorgeous snow day like this. The rich gorgeous stock, the sparkle of white pepper, the marinaded pork, smoked tofu, sweet pops of tomato and shiitakes. Those slivers of egg. It will fight the cold, be it physical or mental. People, you need this hot and sour soup in your repertoire.
Every soup is only as good as its stock and the stock I made for this is special. If you don’t have time to make it, substitute it with the best chicken stock you can find. The flavour and the goodness is in the broth. I like to make it with a combination of chicken wings and pork ribs, but honestly, whatever you have to hand or like. Broth from a ham hock will do a mighty job here too (and isn’t it ham hock season?! Deep joy).
Spring is here, the sun is shining, the pollen as always has jumped in sneakily behind. I love it when the clocks change. Every day I check the time of sunset and plan my day around the light. I love seeing that time creep forward a couple of minutes every day as we approach summer, to jump an hour is pure joy. I am like a Bisto kid on my walk home by gardens cheerful with yellow floral hedges and the occasional magnolia tree scenting the air brightly.
The birds in my garden are back. They wake me way too early, I forgive them for that knowing that they are cheerfully hunting down and chomping on snails and slugs. I make them fat balls with lard and nuts and seeds. They are my most important visitors and I want to keep them happy. I watch them through my window while I work, and see them rescue shreds of old plants from last year which they use to build their nests. I left them there because I never moved them, mainly, and also because I heard they were good for cocooning butterflies to latch on to. I like them too. Bees come for the gorgeous bright yellow cavolo nero flowers. I will plant more borage for them, and also some clover and other plants that will make them sleepy with happiness.
I took enormous pleasure dunking lots of bread in my soup when I was a child. In advance of eating it, lots of bread, sometimes killing the soup in the process. I occasionally ended up with a disappointing bowl of flavoured soggy bread. Castilian garlic soup is the perfect soup for people who love to dunk bread in their soup. It is perfectly balanced, the bread has absorbed the flavours and then yielded to everything, this soup is the ultimate bowl of comfort. One of, at any rate.
I first had this soup at Botin in Madrid, Spain. A prelude to my meal of roast suckling pig, which is what I had come to try. Garlic soup though? Lets give that a bash too. What arrived was a bowl of soup rich with bread, stringy egg and a punchy broth. I loved it, and I have had it many times since.
What a week. I needed a hug in a bowl, maybe ten. Made gently in my quiet kitchen on a cosy day that needed healing, this ham hock, watercress and beluga lentil soup allowed me a half hour where I was immersed somewhere else, somewhere kinder, somewhere nurturing.
The world feels unsafe now, and I worry for all of us, especially those already in terrifying situations. Refugees, those living in poverty (many here in the UK), and minorities living in a place where people fear them. It makes no sense to me, and I am sure that many of you feel the way I do. We need to fight it, we need to make the world we live in a home for everyone. We need to think about how we do that. A world where we are afraid of other and violently opposed to them, is a world headed in a dangerous direction. A frightening place for all of us, even those blindly charging into it.
Refuge in a bowl of soup
So I took brief refuge in cooking and in this bowl of soup. A soothing pot of broth with shreds of bright pink smoked ham and pops of black beluga lentils, holding firm in the face of the luxurious ham broth with some watercress seasoning and lightening it all. Ham hock is perfect for this weather, a time for slow cooking (or cooking fast as I did this time, cooking this in my first pressure cooker, more on that soon).
Right, where were we? November! That is right. As I look out of my window it is sunny with a sharp blue sky, a light wind is teasing the leaves, bot h golden brown and stubbornly green. Regardless of how unseasonally nice it is, November is still all about fires (if you are lucky enough to have one, I don’t, but I have my Big Green Egg), cheese toasties (so many variations) and soups, stews and rich ragus with supple slicks of fresh pasta. I always love a pop of fire within too in the form of sparks of chilli or a smear of chilli oil. I can’t bear anything flat, I need some brightness.
I tend to turn to Italian soups right now, specifically minestre, a chunky soup with vegetables, pasta or rice, and beans often. You will have heard of minestrone (a version of, which must have a thickening vegetable in it), and one of my favourites, pasta e fagiole. I turn often to pasta e patate too (pasta with potatoes, stay with me, it is awesome) and a version that I like to make with pumpkin. The basis of these are a good stock and a good pasta. I like to go off piste and Irish-ise it with a lick of cream too. Off piste can be a happy place, I like to go there.
Autumn came early for me via a trip to Western Australia, where winter was reluctant to leave. Unseasonally long, the locals were shook, I still managed to get sunburned in the warm spells in between winters death rattle. Even before then I was craving Autumn, my senses needing the seasons to change when it was 30 deg C + in London in mid September. So, I made chicken, corn and chipotle chowder the second things started to get cooler.
Trinities of ingredients are recurring themes in my cooking. I like simple food with core ingredients tweaked with store cupboard favourites. Soffrito is a base for many things (garlic, chilli, onions); cheese tomato & onion are always glorious (with a splash of worcester sauce and some salt, a little chilli); pumpkin, chickpea and spinach (whatever way you like, wonderful in a curry); bacon, lettuce and tomato (just so!); chicken, mayonnaise and bread (a little tarragon and lots of butter). Three ingredients is enough for all of them to sing and dance and blend.
My first taste of this dish in Emilia Romagna awoke a hunger in me that I didn’t know I had. A new desire was immediately satisfied. Spoonfuls of broth, some gorgeous textured parmesan noodles, and repeat. Until the bowl is empty and the world feels sad. But, then you have more, and the cycle starts again. Passatelli in brodo is rich and light, sustaining and so satisfying.
I adore chicken soup but this is so much more. This is chicken broth with noodles made from parmesan, nutmeg and breadcrumbs coasting inside. Why aren’t we all obsessed with this? Why isn’t it one of those dishes that every one talks about? Deeply flavoured and rich in umami, passatelli bring this chicken soup to life and soothe unlike any other.
I first learned to make this in a hands on pasta class at La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, a gorgeous local restaurant in a pretty small town near Modena. The town square is full of elderly men chatting and passing the time jovially. Just beyond it is La Piazzetta del Gusto, a restaurant and a pasta shop. All the pasta is rolled by hand every day, and the restaurant itself specialises in passatelli.
Passatelli? I was intrigued. We started with hand rolled tortelloni, then out came the breadcrumbs, parmesan, flour, eggs and nutmeg, which we kneaded lightly to makes passatelli dough. These are so easy. Once the dough is made, you push it through a passatelli press, old style or more commonly now a potato press with large holes, also used for passatelli, and snip the noodles over and into the water. So good.
There are many ways that you can serve them, my favourite is with a classic chicken broth. A winter dish in Emilia Romagna, primarily, I think it suits our 4 seasons in a day summer quite well too.
Passatelli recipe adapted from La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, Emilia Romagna
Recipe: Passatelli in Brodo (AKA Parmesan Noodles in Wonderful Chicken Broth)
Passatelli (enough for two generous portions)
25g pasta flour
fresh grated nutmeg
a passatelli press / potato press (I bought this passatelli press on Amazon)
Chicken broth (more than you need – you can freeze leftovers!)
a large pot – I have a home stock pot which I use lots and recommending investing in
Raw chicken – approx 1.5kg carcasses, whole chicken (save the meat for another use if using this) or chicken wings (perfect as have lots of skin and fat so superb flavour)
6 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped
3 onions, peeled & coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of peppercorns (I used white as that is what I had, black are good too)
Make your chicken broth by putting all ingredients into a pot that will fit them, and topping up with water until everything is just covered. Cover with a lit and boil for at least 2 hours, the longer the better. Strain when done and season to taste with sea salt.
Leave to the side. (If using a whole chicken, remove the meat from the carcass and save for another use).
Make your passatelli by combining everything in a bowl and bringing together to a soft pliable dough.
Heat enough stock for more than two bowls of soup and press the passatelli into it, cutting with a knife when a few inches long. The passatelli will rise to the top, and will be ready to eat a couple of minutes later. If you are making just for one, only press enough into the soup for you, and then press them onto a board, lightly flour, and store on a single layer to use within 3 days. The passatelli become flabby when left in the broth, so best to do it this way.
Now eat. How good is that?!
I visited Emilia Romagna as part of Blogville, sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always. I wouldn’t waste your time, or my own!
Visiting Sabah, I was excited as always about the food and the peculiarities that would be offered by the region and the local cooking. Sabah is tucked away in Borneo, caressing the sea, but it has a lot of rainforest and cultivated land too. On the coast there are what are referred to locally as sea gypsies, living in wooden houses on stilts in the sea by the coast. Originating from Indonesia and the Philippines, they do have their own local food culture, and I found a chef who teaches it, Fortunato Lowel, at the Mango Garden Restaurant.
I have quite a few Christmas recipes up my sleeve, but lets take a break from the chocolate, the alcohol and the spice, and think about a comfortable Christmas lunch for the days before and after the crazy indulgent one. I am thinking soup, and who doesn’t love soup? Nourishing and soothing, soup is what I reach for when I am ill, or when I need comfort. Oh, and toasted sandwiches too.
I don’t like telling you what to do, but on this occasion, I must. It is almost the weekend, and it is very much Autumn, so what I need you to do, is to go out and buy a couple of raw chicken carcasses (most butchers will have them, and failing that 500g chicken wings), some ham bones, if you can get them, or a ham hock. You see with these, and some veg, you can make a sublime broth which will keep you in gorgeous soups for the week, as I have done. I just needed soup and lots of it.
A home made broth is wonderful, far surpassing any commercial pretenders. Even those home made ones you see in shop fridges will not have been made with the love and care that yours can be made with at home. Love and care brings flavour, and health, and joy. I am insisting that you give this a go.
A good home made stock will have clear strong flavours, but it is gentle too, and only ever supports what you add to it, it never dominates. Shop bought stocks, especially the cubes, always do. It is an effort, but making a big batch when you have the time is very rewarding, the bulk of the work lies in waiting for it to be done.
There are many things you can do with this stock. A steaming mug of it on its own brings great pleasure and sustenance. With shredded chicken, leftover or not, some spring onions, some coriander and some chilli, you have a vigorous bright chicken soup, with a ham backbone. It also freezes well.
So, I told you all about my curry eggs cold smasher the other day. Yes, it is a cracker, but it didn’t smash my cold quite as quickly as I wanted to. So, there was nothing for it, I had to call in the reserves: chicken soup, with a twist.
There is scientific evidence that supports the notion that chicken soup is in fact Jewish pencillin (as it has always been said to be). It tastes great too and is not too traumatic a recipe for when you are poorly, as long as you have a chicken in the house. I didn’t but a friend kindly brought one round for me and so I was set.
I have returned to London for a short stretch, and minutes off the plane it seems, I have contracted the brutal head and chest cold that has been taking London down. I was doing so well, I have not had one cold this winter.
For relief and to fight it, I need something simple, firey and potent to blast the germs out. I also need something cheerful and bright. My life is full of lemon, honey & gingers. I now also need to introduce Prawn Tom Yum Kung soup.
This recipe is another from Thailand from my class at the cooking school at the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. This is an authentic recipe and is full of flavour. I think it is also the perfect thing for a cold. There are two ways of making it, one is clear and one is milk with some more firey heat. In Thailand they use tinned milk which is quite sweet and lighter than coconut milk.
I am going to work on a coconut milk version, and for now share the recipe for the clear soup, which is adapted from the recipe taught to me by Pichit (in the photographs). I had to change the recipe a little to adapt to the size of our prawns and the availability of ingredients, but the taste is very similar to what I had in Bangkok and still very good.
Note on the recipe: we used giant blue Thai river prawns. I would suggest the best raw prawns that you can find. Cooked prawns will just cook further in the broth and become leathery.
You might also like to check out my recipe for Thai Seafood Green Curry from the same class.
When I am in London, my time is pretty packed. Catching up on meetings, working, organising everything (I need a PA!). My weekend are precious and often work filled. When I can, I will snatch a Saturday and cook.
I have a ritual on those Saturdays, some things I really like to do and that I find very relaxing. I start with a coffee and a newspaper in one of my favourite local cafés, then I trot to the farmers market to gather some bits. Always much more than intended, for it is full of delicious things.
This week: purple and green kale, raw honey, lots of free range eggs (which are much cheaper here than at the supermarket), a lovely plump chicken, chicken wings, and deer bones. It is eclectic, all the food comes from good places, and really, it is quite cheap if you choose well.
One thing I always bring back, either from the market or my local lovely butcher, are chicken carcasses, or failing that chicken wings. From these I concoct a large red pot of delicious stock. Rich and gorgeous, it will pepper my weekly meals.
This week I got 6 chicken carcasses (no wings) and roasted them to brown and extract the sticky delicious schmaltz (tasty chicken fat), both go into my stock pot with diced carrots, garlic, carrots, celery, shallots, bay and thyme. I then tuck into the paper and let it simmer. It is one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Having this pot of liquid gold on hand throughout the week leads to delicious and very quick meals that tell tall tales of long cooking and exertion. Of course, there was long cooking but that was days ago, and today I reap the rewards of a fabulous soup.
You may have noticed that I love mixing creatures in a meatball. I just love a tasty meatball or pasty. On this occasion I mixed raw prawns with some soft chorizo. I also add some breadcrumbs which lighten them. Because it is so rubbish outside, I must lighten my bowl too, so I added fresh chilli, parsley and spring onion.
Now I am calling it a meatball, but being more of a meatfishball it has a different texture, being primarily prawn. Lovely though, and it brings a little character and interest to a simple bowl of broth. Lots of protein too, and not a lot of fat.
Enjoy and let me know how you get on with it.
Ps. there is ginger in the bowl in the photo, which doesn’t exactly go, but I have a poor tum and ginger is terrific for it. The recipe is better without it so I have excluded it below.
Note on the recipe: You can use hard cured chorizo too but just make sure it is pulsed fine in your food processor, and it if it is not binding because it is dry, also add an egg. This isn’t necessary with soft chorizo. This recipe is much easier with a food processor.
Whenever I travel, it’s inevitable that I bring back random ingredients to play with when I get home. My cupboards are rammed with randomness, so much so that I nearly knocked myself out when something came hurtling at my head on opening the cupboard door earlier. I appreciate that even the idea of this creates stress for a lot of people, but I love my Aladdins Cave cupboard full of random delights.
Last week in Croatia I picked up lots of curious things including three brands of paprika (I want to see what they’re like starting with some goulash experiments soon), a big bag of dried corn kernels that I bought from an old lady at Pula market, and lots of fresh borlotti beans from another old lady who grew them in her garden.
Fresh beans? Why? They’re not easy to come by in the UK and I love them. When I do find them they’re quite expensive. Fresh borlotti beans are succulent and firm, with lovely flavour. They require no soaking, and in relative terms cook quickly. Housed in a bright pink pod they are speckled and cheerful. It’s such a shame that they lose their pink blush as they cook. They are wonderful in the traditional Italian pasta e fagioli, and perfect for any little soup that you might throw together.
When last in Italy I bought lots of random charcuterie, including some guanciale. Guanciale is cured pig cheek and has the most delicious flavour, probably as it is mainly fat! It’s the preferred cut for carbonara, but I also love it in a minestrone soup.
So, this soup was born. A bright, cheerful winter soup with beans, veg, guanciale and broken pasta. Rather than get specific soup noodles I just broke some spaghetti into small chunks and that worked really well.
Now, you might be thinking ‘is she mad? I can’t make that! I can’t get dried corn or fresh beans, and what is this guanciale she is banging on about?’. Don’t worry, you can substitute and I will tell you with what. Or, give it a go, and stick whatever you have in your veg box in. Use your favourite beans and pasta shape and go with it. It’s just a soup after all.
And by the way – the dried corn was really worth the effort, it’s delicious!
Recipe on iVillage: Winter bean and broken pasta soup
Pumpkins are not just for Jack O’ Lanterns or pumpkin pie. No sir! Pumpkins are utterly delicious. You may remember my recent pumpkin & pecan mash on this blog. This time I have turned the humble – and cheap – pumpkin into an aromatic dish for Halloween.
Now, don’t be afraid of pumpkin. They look big and intimidating, but roast it in quarters with the skin on and you can scoop lovely soft flesh out which is perfect for soup. Not only is this the easy way, it is also the best for flavour, the water evaporates off and you are left with something far more pumpkin-y than before.
Lemongrass, with its gorgeous citrus high notes, is wonderful with pumpkin. Some chilli is required for a Halloween soup – it has to be a little scary – and to round it all off some lovely fresh ginger. If you haven’t used lemongrass before, worry not. It’s also easy when you know how and is very easy to source these days too in most supermarkets. Simply peel the outer rough leaves – usually about two – and shred finely.
Now, if you’re ever feeling poorly, this soup – minus the chilli – will do wonders for your tum. It’s very gentle and soothing and the lemongrass will pep you up, although maybe reduce it to one lemongrass stalk. Pumpkin itself is an anti-oxidant powerhouse and is rich in B vitamins too. If you are watching your weight, pumpkin is very low in calories. So, it is a winner all around, wouldn’t you agree?
Recipe on iVillage: Spritely Halloween pumpkin soup with lemongrass, chilli & ginger | iVillage UK
So, we picked the fiddleheads and washed them (as per the video in my last post). We then brought them back to O’Donnells Cottages and made a delicious fiddlehead soup for lunch. We preserved some of the rest and took a jar back home with us. I am saving mine for dirty fiddlehead martinis. Yes you did read right,and yes, isn’t that genius? I got the idea from a lovely lady in New Brunswick.
Apologies for the camera flash in the middle of the pickling video, I didn’t spot it until I rendered it and am struck down with a chest infection so can’t face doing it again.
Hope you like!
I am not much in the mind for cooking, that is new, and possibly a bit worrying. I cook so much now for others, with a full day of prep, followed by 2 days at the market, and two 16 hour days in a row at that, that I find I have little enthusiasm for cooking for myself at home. Call me jaded.
I do however, crave something really healthy. My body is battered and I feel a bit weary. I also want to hide out at home and eat here. It has been a very challenging month. Something quick that I can make that sings of hearty full flavour, that will settle my tum, and soothe my frazzled senses. It sounds like I need a good solid soup.
But, what soup? I am not really in the mind for something complicated, I want it to be fresh and wholesome. I am thinking back to my pea & ham soup that I made for the market on Thursday, and sadly forgot to photograph! The absence of my DSLR is making a very bad blogger of me. I am so disappointed with the results from my old point and shoot, I find that I am demotivated on the photographic front, so until I replace it and get my mojo back, please forgive the crap photos.
Back to the soup, it was very good in my humble opinion, and as an Italian customer said, it had the essence of the pig. You really can’t beat a good soup at this time of year and this one is one of my favourites, made simply with Irish ham hocks, lots of fresh veg for stock, and an abundance of peas, nestled in a gentle and translucent onion & garlic base.
But, what for now? Sadly, I have no ham hock or peas so I can’t recreate. I do have some fantastic leftover gammon, savoy cabbage, lentils and lots of vegetables. That sounds like a soup to me! It also sounds comforting and nurturing, which is just perfect for today. And a little naughty with that glint of salty ham. I don’t want to be too good after all! I love that it’s that fabled Irish combination of bacon & cabbage, that we were all raised on, like it or lump it. I lumped it at the time, and hated the sulphurous odours emanating from the kitchen, however, I have matured into a bacon & cabbage loving lass, so bring it on.
So, this really is not posh or glamorous, but it’s good home cooked food. There’s lots of body from the lentils mingling with chunks of ham, ribbons of cabbage, and the occasional sweet carrot. It’s frugal, it’s tasty and I’d wager that it’s healthy. I served it with some home made croutons made with seasoned day old bread fried in oil until crispy. Perfect.
Makes enough for 4. Tuck in!
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
1.5l good stock, ham if you have it, chicken otherwise
300g red lentils
300g chopped cooked gammon (can substitute bacon)
Small head of savoy cabbage (can substitute other greens), shredded
Saute the onion and carrot in olive oil over a medium heat until the onion is translucent.
Add the garlic and saute for a further 30 seconds.
Add the stock, the lentils, bay leaves and the ham. Cook for 15 minutes or so until the lentils are mushy.
Remove the bay leaves and add the cabbage.
Cook for a further 5 minutes until the cabbage is just soft but still a lovely green colour.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve immediately with good crusty bread or croutons
Salsify is a most underrated vegetable. It’s ugly, and it’s awkward. It’s like a stroppy teenager that refuses to wash. It’s not much fun to prep and goes off colour really easily. Dark brown and holding onto every bit of dirt, I had some ground into my palms which took so much scrubbing, I think I’ve lost some layers of skin. It requires a lot of TLC. Putting it mildly.
So, why bother?
Once you crack it and this shy vegetable shows you it’s smile, you can’t help but fall in love with it. Tender and delicate, it’s often referred to as the oyster of the vegetable kingdom as it’s reported to have a similar flavour. I find it a little nutty, and so I like to pair it with roast garlic, which I think compliments it well. Once you take the beast that is garlic with some firm roasting, so that it relaxes and releases a sweetness, it holds hands with the salsify in this soup, and they become the best of friends. They don’t overpower each other, it’s a very delicate soup.
This aside, I wanted this to be a robust little soup, thick with lots of flavour, and I really wanted it to be healthy too. So, I added lentils and a carrot and a potato, along with the base shallots. I used a light chicken stock but you could substitute vegetable if you would like a vegetarian soup.
This would serve 4 very healthy portions. Nice with good crusty bread.
700g salsify, unpeeled
1 bulb garlic
2 large shallots or 4 small, finely chopped
2l light chicken stock
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
100g red lentils
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive Oil for frying
Scrub, scrub, scrub that salsify. Peel, taking care not to strip too much of the skin. Chop into one inch sections and leave in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon), so that it doesn’t discolour.
Roast the garlic. I like to roast at 180 degrees, it takes about 20 minutes. Slice the top off a bulb of garlic, exposing the top of each clove and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roast and allow to cool, then squeeze each clove out of it’s papery jacket. I adore roast garlic. It should really have a post all of it’s own.
Saute the shallots in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and potato for a couple of minutes. After, add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, garlic cloves, lentils and salsify.
Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the salsify is tender. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and blitz in a blender. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Serve with some thyme leaves as a garnish. I added a swirl of olive oil but cream would work really well too.