Soup, glorious soup…

My first full weekend at home of the New Year and a lovely cold, yet sunny couple of days to boot – perfect for getting the allotment back in shape after a prolonged absence due to bad weather, pre-Christmas activities and a magical New Year trip to Austria.

It’s been ages since I went down to the plot for anything other than to harvest: brief visits to snatch up leeks or parsnips and only time for an apologetic glance at the general desolation. To be fair, most people’s plots are looking fairly sad at this time of year, and at least there is still plenty to pick on mine! The fact that my new neighbour’s plot has had a makeover and is pristine with shiny new raised beds and a beautiful wooden fruit cage, plus sturdy supports for espaliered fruit trees and a sandpit puts the rest of us to shame, however. Replacing my decaying (but 7/8-year-old) scaffolding board beds is definitely a priority this year…

Sad January allotment 2015

In the meantime, I spent a couple of hours finally getting round to a number of long overdue jobs: cutting down the spent asparagus stems – a job I should have done back in autumn in a bid to stop the dreaded asparagus beetle from overwintering, although it’s been pretty mild so far, so maybe a few sharp frosts between now and spring will still reap rewards; cutting down the dahlia foliage, another job I should have done in November, but it’s never done any harm leaving it in the past and my tubers are so huge now that they seem pretty resilient; taking down the runner/French bean tripods (I know, shameful to still have them standing in January and even more amazing that the wind hasn’t blown them down!) and general weeding – where does all that chickweed come from?! Two and a half hours of highly enjoyable pottering later, my plot looks radically improved, more or less weed-free (barring the paths, which need topping up with bark chippings) and ready to call in some help to reinstate the beds!

Today’s haul was a creditable trug full of calabrese (so much better than last year, thanks to the Enviromesh which kept out the pigeons AND the caterpillars), leeks, parsley, rocket, Swiss chard, parsnips, swede and carrots. Not bad for a January day!

There was plenty of calabrese for my stir-fried rice last night, as a vegetable accompaniment for tonight’s Shetland lamb chop in red wine & redcurrant sauce and for the majority to go in a delicious broccoli and stilton soup. I wasn’t sure about this recipe before I tried it, thinking the heavy dose of brassicas might make it sulphurous, but the combination of the broccoli (or calabrese) and blue Stilton is inspired. Delicious for lunch with crusty bread, or as a dinner party starter if you feel so inclined.

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

Broccoli and stilton soup

2 tbsp olive oil

1 knob butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 leek, chopped,

2 sticks celery, chopped

1 medium potato, diced (or use a large potato if you prefer your soup thicker)

1 head broccoli or calabrese, chopped (or a selection of smaller side stems if that’s what you have)

150 g Blue Stilton (or other blue cheese), roughly crumbled

1 litre homemade chicken or vegetable stock

Chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Cook the onions in the olive oil and butter until soft – about 10 minutes. Add the chopped celery, leek, and potato and cook for a further 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and add the chopped broccoli. Bring to the boil, cover and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add the crumbled Stilton and parsley, stir for a couple of minutes, then season and allow to cool before blending in a liquidizer. Serve hot and enjoy the very distinctive and delicious taste!

Soup maker Amazon

Having received an electric soup maker for Christmas (Morphy Richards Sauté and Soup), I thought I’d experiment with this recipe. I’ve made it before using the above method, but adapted it today for the soup maker as the liquid volume was the same as the recipes in the book supplied. On the whole it worked well, and should in theory cut down on washing-up and avoid the need to wait for the soup to cool before transferring to the liquidizer (often a messy operation!) as the entire process takes place in the soup maker. My problem was that the volume of vegetables meant that adding the stock would have brought the level to beyond the maximum marker, so I ended up just adding the broccoli stalks initially, then transferring the blended soup to a pan and adding the broccoli florets and Stilton, then returning most of the liquid and solid chunks to the soup maker and doing a final blend – which probably defeats the object…..! I’m undoubtedly far too set in my ways and used to making huge volumes of soup without thinking about restricting quantities – especially with my usual allotment-scale gluts of produce! However, if you aren’t dealing with such large amounts and are prepared to stick fairly closely to the recipes, the resulting soup was certainly just as nice as when I’ve made it in the past using the old-fashioned method! If anything, I missed the alchemy of stirring, tasting and adjusting as I went; the fact that it’s all contained admittedly rules out any chance of the kitchen steaming up or the pan boiling over, but it also means you can’t adapt as you go. What was that about old dogs and new tricks…..?

Anyway, Happy New Year and happy soup-making!

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