perfect weather for soup

It’s soup weather again. I am writing recipes for my column on May 25th as we will be shooting this Tuesday. I thought I would post some of my favourite soup recipes from last year. If you’ve got the time and inclination, you can have a beautiful pot of homemade stock simmering all day. Make enough and you’ll be able to freeze the extra. If you’re short on time, there are great quality prepared stocks available from delis and supermarkets. Or try my quick microwave chicken stock –ready in thirty minutes. It’s a great way to use the last bits of a roast chicken. Pick one up on the way home, and don’t forget to make this stock every time you have a roast chook.

Another family favourite is minestrone, full of vegetables, beans and pasta. Think of this as a foundation recipe. Then add whatever you have at hand. It’s a great way to use up the last of the vegies in the fridge. I like to make a stock with a big, meaty ham hock, then shred the meat and add it back into the soup at the end. A dollop of fresh basil pesto, stirred in at the table, gives a refreshing flavour hit. Remember that the cooked pasta continues to swell up, so any leftover soup will end up thicker. Simply add more stock for the desired consistency.

For a great way to enjoy fish in the colder months, try the Mediterranean fish soup.

And if you’re moping around with a cold, the chicken noodle soup will provide a great pick me up. It’s full of goodness and nourishing. And that’s how it is with soups.

Mediterranean fish and Chorizo soup

Fish stock is easy and quick to make. Ask your fishmonger for two fish heads, clean and rinse well, and discard the gills. Place in a stockpot with  sliced onion,  chopped carrot, some sliced leek and celery, a few parsley stalks, bay leaf, thyme sprig, some black peppercorns and half a cup of dry white wine. Cover with cold water and bring slowly to a simmer, then skim. Simmer for 20 minutes then remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve over a large bowl. Cool, then refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

800 g thick boneless fish fillets (trevally, blue eye, ling etc)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, sliced

3 chorizo sausages, sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 red capsicums, sliced

1 tsp Spanish paprika

2 bay leaves

6 thyme sprigs

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves

600 g small potatoes, cut in quarters

400 g tin diced tomatoes

1.5 litres fish stock

Sea salt and pepper

3 tbsp flat parsley leaves

Cut the fish into large chunks.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion, chorizo, garlic and capsicum and cook for five minutes, until softened. Add the paprika, herbs and potatoes, and coat in the oil. Add the tomatoes and stock. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes, until the potatoes are cooked. Add the fish and cook for about four minutes or until the fish is opaque. Season with salt and pepper.

serves 6.

My chicken noodle soup for 2009

This is my home remedy for the common cold. Based on a Charmaine Solomon recipe, it is full of goodness with loads of garlic and lemon juice and the easiest chicken stock you’ll ever make. Add whatever takes your fancy; I like udon noodles with lots of chicken and sliced chilli for extra kick. Perfect for when you’re feeling all grumbly and sorry for yourself or when your partner is in the throes of a ‘man cold’.

1 roast chicken

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 leek, sliced

1 celery stick, sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

2 cups well washed coriander leaves, including stems and roots

2 tablespoons lemon juice

450g packet fresh udon noodles (or your choice)

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

2 spring onions, sliced

1 red chilli, sliced

Pull the chicken meat off the bones and set aside. Place the skin, bones and the carcass in a large microwave safe bowl. Add the carrot, leek,onion and celery. Pour in enough water to come up over the bones. Cover with cling wrap and cook on high (100%) for 30 minutes.

Place garlic, salt, pepper, coriander and lemon juice in a small food processor and whiz together to form a rough paste.

When stock is ready, strain through a fine sieve into a medium saucepan. Discard the bones.

Add the chicken and noodles and cook gently to heat through.

Remove from heat, ladle into deep soup bowls and add 1 tablespoon of coriander paste (or more, to taste). Garnish with bean sprouts, spring onion and chilli.

Serves 4.

Sunday night Minestrone

This is our Sunday night staple during the colder months. It’s also a great way to clean out the fridge of leftover vegies and pasta. To make your own ham stock, get a large ham hock from the market deli, put it into a stock pot with an onion, a piece of carrot, celery and some fresh herbs, cover with water and cook over a low heat for a few hours. (You won’t need any salt, as the ham is quite salty). Strain the stock through a colander. Keep the hock and shred the ham for the soup.

2 tbs olive oil

1 leek, sliced

1 red onion, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 celery stalks, sliced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1.5 litres homemade ham stock (see recipe above)

400g tin crushed tomatoes

400g tin cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

75g tubetti pasta, cooked al dente

1-2 cups shredded ham from the hock

fresh basil pesto to serve

Heat oil in a large pot, add vegetables and sauté for a few minutes.

Add stock and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add beans, pasta and ham and heat through.

Remove from heat, ladle into deep bowls, dollop with a spoonful of basil pesto and serve.

Serves 4 -6.


caramel can be tricky

I have received lots of comments about the upside down caramel pear cake. Most were related to making the caramel. It made me realise that something I do quickly and easily, shouldn’t be taken for granted. If you are not used to making caramel, it can be tricky! Of course, I don’t have the space to go into detail about caramel making in the recipe for the newspaper, but that’s what this blog is for! If you’ve found this, then you’re probably interested in learning more about making caramel.

Firstly, you can make caramel simply by melting sugar in a heavy based frypan over low heat. You don’t even need water. This is known as a dry caramel. For example, use 1 cup of sugar and sprinkle it evenly over the base of the frypan. I think caster sugar is easier to use. You will notice edges of it start to colour first. Give the pan a gentle shake, but do not stir. You should never stir caramel whilst it is cooking.

For less experienced cooks, mix sugar with water in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. You can stir the mixture up to this point. It is important the sugar dissolves completely, otherwise you will see the resultant mixture crystallise. Small crystals will form throughout the sugar syrup and prevent it from caramelising.

If this happens, you will have to throw it away and start again.

Once the sugar has dissolved, do not stir any more. Bring the mixture to the boil. The heat of the syrup will increase and the colour will start to change.

Another problem that can occur is due to small sugar crystals forming around the sides of the pan. Try not to splash the syrup around the edges when stirring initially, as this may be the cause. If you notice some small crystals, do not despair. Use a very clean pastry brush dipped in cold water. Dab the brush gently just above the crystals and allow the trickle of water to run down over the crystals to dissolve them again. You may have seen this technique before. It works, as long as you have a clean brush. (a clean pan is also a must).

My personal experience is that better quality sugar  works the best. I like to use caster sugar as it dissolves quicker. But, all sugar will make caramel. I have even melted grated palm sugar in a dry pan -delicious, as part of a special salad dressing for a recipe I tested for a restaurant at Southbank. Interested? Have a look at their 2010 food calendar.

Back to the caramel. According to Larousse:

very pale caramel -take off the heat as soon as it starts to turn pale yellow. A teaspoon of vinegar will help it stay in liquid form for longer.

pale caramel -used to coat choux pastry (I love Masterchef !) Am currently watching it on EyeTV as I blog.

medium caramel -mahogony in colour, used to coat moulds, make nougat and flavour puddings and ice creams.

slaked caramel –a small quantity of cold water is added (carefully) when the caramel is mahogony colour, in order to stop the cooking process. Some of the syrup solidifies immediately. The pan is put back on low heat and melted while stirring.

brown caramel -amber red, used to colour consommes, sauces and stews.

Another tip -get a sugar thermometer. They’re not expensive and get everything to the perfect temperature required. The little clip on the side of the thermometer is used to attach it to the side of the pan, so it doesn’t touch the bottom.

Autumn menu

Autumn on the menu

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. The cooler weather brings me indoors to spend time happily cooking in the warmth of the kitchen. At the top of my shopping list are new season’s apples and pears, figs, gorgeous plums and persimmons with colours as beautiful as the changing autumn leaves. Gently poach fruit in sugar syrup to intensify the flavours and enjoy as a delicious dessert.

Sweet baby brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, leeks and onions, golden pumpkins, zucchini and mushrooms are ready to roast and turn into a sensational warm salad; a snapshot of the season on your plate.

Autumn calls for some slow cooking. Sauces and stews can simmer away, as flavours intensify and develop. With all due respect to the Easter Bunny, rabbit is delicious in pasta sauce. The recipe below can be cooked in the oven. As with all things cooked slowly, it’s just as easy to make large quantities and keep some for later on. I don’t know why, but it always tastes better next time.

Enjoy the simple menu below to celebrate this glorious season.

warm salad of autumn vegetables

Vegetables are a revelation when roasted, as this brings out their natural sweetness. Balance with a squeeze of lemon at the end and top with creamy marinated feta. Enjoy this warm salad as a sensational starter or alongside a roast as part of the main course.

600g Kent pumpkin

4 baby onions

150g baby brussel sprouts

150g baby zucchini

2 portobello mushrooms

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ (half) tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tbsp dried oregano

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season

juice of 1-2 lemons

180g marinated feta to serve

Preheat oven to 180C.

Cut the pumpkin into thin wedges and remove the skin if desired.

Leave the skin on the onions and cut in half lengthways. Place on a large baking tray alongside the pumpkin. Set aside.

Cut the brussel sprouts in half and place on a separate baking tray. Scatter the zucchini over. Cut the mushrooms into 6 wedges each and place on tray with zucchini and sprouts.

Mix oil with garlic, chilli and oregano. Drizzle over both trays of vegetables. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.

Place the tray of pumpkin in the oven and cook for 35 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and cooked. Add the second tray and continue to cook the vegetables for a further 10 – 15 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Divide between plates, squeeze over a little lemon juice and top with a dollop of marinated feta.

serves 4.

pappardelle with rabbit ragu

Rabbit makes a delicious sauce for pasta. This makes a large quantity, enough for eight. Keep leftover sauce in the fridge or freezer to whip out at a later date for an instant meal with minimal fuss. Fresh pasta cooks in next to no time. Make your own pappardelle by cutting fresh lasagne sheets into thick strips with a sharp knife.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 rabbit, jointed in six pieces

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 brown onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

500ml stock (meat or vegetable)

500ml tomato sugo

2 bayleaf

sprig of fresh oregano

sprig of fresh thyme

1 cup green olives, pitted

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 kg fresh pappardelle pasta

fresh parsley to garnish

Preheat oven to 180C.

Heat oil in heavy based, oven proof pot. Add the rabbit pieces and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add celery, carrots, onions and garlic to the pot and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until well softened.

Return the rabbit pieces to the pot, then add stock, tomato sugo, herbs and olives and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and place in oven. Cook for 1 ½ (one and a half) hours.

Remove from oven, take the rabbit pieces out of the pot and shred the meat roughly. Remove and discard all bones. Return the meat to the pot and stir through the sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil and cook fresh pasta for a few minutes, until al dente. Drain pasta in a colander, then toss the drained pasta through the ragu.

Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

serves 8.

poached autumn fruit compote

Use any combination of seasonal fruits to make this delicious and simple compote.

2 cups raw sugar

2 cups water

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

1 cinnamon stick

1 orange

1 lemon

4 brown pears, quartered and cored

4 plums, halved and stones removed

4 figs, halved

natural yoghurt, to serve

Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat to dissolve. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a thin piece of skin from the orange and lemon. Add to the pot with the other aromatics. Reserve the citrus fruit for another use.

Place the pear quarters in the poaching liquid and gently cook over low heat for 15 minutes, until the pears are soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Add plums and figs and continue to cook for a few minutes more, until the fruit is softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly in the poaching syrup.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt.

Serves 4.