Category Archives: Autumn minestrone with watercress & hazelnut pesto

A tale of two soups

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such daintiness would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish,

Game or any other dish?

Who would not give all else for two

Pennyworth only of beautiful soup?

(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

I love the versatility of soup.

The endless possibilities that it offers at different times of the year and the variety of accompaniments that go well with soup.

From the tang of a chilled summer starter, to the intense flavour  of a consomme, restorative power of a nourishing broth, the enveloping comfort of meal-in-a-bowl of chowder or a chilli-spiked Vietnamese pho …

soup is one of the most versatile dishes you can think of.

Soup and health are often linked and understandably so: it is soothing, easy to eat and digest and can demonstrate that lots of flavour and texture + calories do not have to go hand-in-hand.

Antoine Careme, arguably the greatest chef of all time and founder of haute cuisine summed it up by saying “there is a whole world of health and eating pleasure in soup”.

Trying to eat more locally grown ingredients can be a challenge, but it’s easy at this time of year.

The two recipes that follow make the most of  British vegetables that are plentiful now.

You can easily substitute other veg for the ones I used in the minestrone, but I urge you to give watercress a try in the pesto. It really is rather wonderful. If you can lay your hands on them, cob nuts make a nice, seasonal change from hazelnuts.

If you want to add pasta to the soup in addition or instead of the pearl barley, I recommend that you boil it separately and add it to the plates just before serving. In case you have soup left over, the pasta in it does not re-heat well and because too soft.

I keep the rinds of Parmesan and other hard cheeses to flavour minestrone and leek & potato soups; it really makes  a huge difference to the depth of flavour.

The field mushrooms for the mushroom soup are roasted first with garlic and lemon juice, then blitzed to an almost black pulp with their juices before being gently simmered with breadcrumbs and balsamic vinegar. The result is a thick, dark and deeply savoury, almost “meaty”, soup.

Serve with some garlicky bruschetta made with stale sourdough.

Here goes … both recipes serve 4 generously.

Autumn minestrone with watercress & hazelnut pesto

Minestrone with watercress & hazelnut pesto

This is what you need:

  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • thick slice of celeriac, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 leek, washed and finely shredded
  • 4 leaves of cavolo nero, central nerve removed and shredded 
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 60g pearl barley
  • 600g stock (homemade chicken stock or made with a good quality stock cube – I like Marigold and Kallo)
  • one of more hard cheese rinds

for the pesto

  • small bunch of watercress, stalks included
  • small handful of whole hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or rapeseed oil if you want to keep ingredients 100% British)

This is what you do:

  1. Dice the onion, carrot and celeriac into pea-sized pieces and keep them separately
  2. heat the oil in a non-stick sauce pan over medium heat
  3. add the onion, reduce the heat to low and fry for 5 minutes until just beginning to brown
  4. add the carrot and celeriac and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring the vegetables occasionally so the pieces colour evenly
  5. add the stock, cheese rinds, thyme sprigs and pearl barley
  6. simmer for 25 minutes or until the pearl barley is cooked but still has some bite
  7. in the meantime make the pesto by shopping the hazelnuts, then adding the watercress followed by the oil; season to taste with salt and pepper
  8. when the pearl barley is ready, add the leeks and cavolo nero and simmer for another 5 minutes
  9. fish out the cheese rinds
  10. serve the soup in deep plates with a tablespoon of pesto and some good bread

Dark, deeply savoury, "mysterious" roast mushroom soup

Roast field mushroom soup

This is what you need:

  • 750g field mushrooms, wiped clean
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 slice of wholemeal or sourdough bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs
  • 600ml stock  (see above)

This is what you do:

  1. pre-heat the oven to 200C
  2. arrange the mushrooms on 1 (or 2) baking trays in a single layer
  3. pour over the olive oil and lemon juice, scatter with garlic and thyme
  4. bake for 25 minutes
  5. liquidise the mushrooms and their juices with the balsamic vinegar and a ladle of the  stock in a food processor
  6. tip the mush into a pan, add the rest of the stock, stir in the breadcrumbs and simmer gently for 10 minutes
  7. taste and season with salt and pepper

Bon appetit and happy slurping!