Gazpacho

Gazpacho soup served with green pepper and croutons
If you’ve never eaten a chilled soup before, you’re going to just have to go with me on this one. It might seem very strange, or even off-putting, to those who have never tried it before, but believe me when I say that you are missing out and need to rectify that ASAP. Gazpacho, a southern Spanish tomato soup, is probably the most famous of the chilled soup family and it is one of my all-time favourite recipes. There are slight variations in ingredients and methods between the recipes available (some including peppers or bread, some soaking the ingredients overnight before blending, some adding stock or basil at the end), but this simple recipe is the one that my family has always used, passed down from my mum’s mum, and it is the best there is (unbiased family opinion).

Gazpacho makes use of the fresh, young allium produce that are available during the late summer. If you can’t get your hands on any young red onions or “green” garlic, as it is sometimes called, then you can use the regular varieties though you may want slightly reduce the quantity you add to the soup as it will be stronger and sharper in flavour. Err on the side of caution, since you can always add more in after the first blend, but you can’t take it back out at the end! This is the perfect seasonal recipe for a light lunch or supper, or to serve as a starter at a summer dinner party. However, I can also highly recommend having a large bowl of the soup the day after a night of excess – it’s zingy and refreshing, is reminiscent of comfort-food-hero hot tomato soup, has a high water content and is packed with vitamins.

One year ago:
Refreshing watermelon salad
Ingredients for homemade gazpacho
Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings)
450g ripe tomatoes
½ a cucumber
1 medium young red onion
3 cloves young garlic
450ml tomato juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Green bell pepper and breadsticks or croutons to serve

Method
1. Begin by peeling and deseeding the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to plunge the tomatoes into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds.
Boiling tomatoes to remove the skin
Remove and drain – the skin may already have started to blister – and leave to cool for a few minutes.
Tomatoes ready to be skinned
The skin should now very easily peel away, and then the tomatoes can be cut in half and the seeds either cut or scraped out.

2. Roughly chop the cucumber (including the peel and seeds), red onion and garlic and place in a large bowl.
Chopped red onion, garlic and cucumber
3. Add the peeled and deseeded tomatoes to the bowl, roughly chopped.
Adding peeled and seeded tomatoes to the gazpacho mix
4. Pour in the tomato juice, and add the olive oil, white wine vinegar and a generous season of salt and pepper.
Seasoning the gazpacho mix
5. Use a hand blender to blend the ingredients together. I like to keep the soup just a little bit chunky, but you can blend until you have the consistency you want – for a very smooth texture you will need to pass the mixture through a sieve. Taste the soup for seasoning (including vinegar, onion and garlic, not just salt and pepper) and adjust if necessary.
Blending the gazpacho soup
6. Chill the soup for at least 2 or 3 hours – this step is very important, so don’t skip it unless you are incredibly short on time, in which case having the tomato juice already chilled in the fridge is a top tip from my mum.
Blended gazpacho soup
Serve the soup chilled, in chilled bowls if you’re feeling extra fancy. Top with diced green pepper and, traditionally, homemade croutons either baked or fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. At home we always just broke up breadsticks to scatter over the soup, which is far less effort and a little healthier too. This time we spotted a box of olive oil crostini at the shops, which worked perfectly too.
Homemade chilled gazpacho soup 1
This soup will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 or 6 days, the flavours mingling and only improving with time.

Have you eaten chilled soups before, and if so what is your favourite type? Do you have your own gazpacho recipe? – I’d love to hear about it below!…

Minestrone soup

Homemade hearty minestrone soup topped with pesto and parmesan
Right now is a great time of year to be eating kale. Although it’s available all year round in it’s curly variety in most supermarkets, it’s in season between September and February and so at this time of year you might be able to get your mitts on some more interesting varieties. Plus, we’re all trying to be a little virtuous in January, and kale is a vitamin and mineral dense vegetable, packed with Vitamin C, calcium and beta carotene (which no-one really knows what it is, but hey-ho it sounds super healthy). The kale I’ve used in this recipe was grown by my dad at his allotment and is called cavolo nero (“black cabbage” in Italian, where the variety originates). If you can find cavolo nero to use in this recipe then great – it goes perfectly in stews and soups – but if not then use any kale or cabbage that you like.

This recipe is the godsend of all store-cupboard meals. I do think that the combinations below work particularly well, but the beauty is that you can use whatever veggies you have in the vegetable drawer, whatever meat (bacon, sausages, chorizo would all be great) you have in the fridge and any type of beans or pasta shape that you have in the cupboard.
Ingredients for hearty minestrone soup
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
100g (about 6 rashers) streaky bacon
1 white onion
2 medium carrots
2 celery sticks
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp tomato puree
1.5l vegetable stock
1 tin or carton of chopped tomato
6-8 large cavolo nero leaves
100g spaghetti
1 tin cannellini beans
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional topping suggestions: basil pesto, grated parmesan, chopped basil, chopped parsley, croutons

Method
1. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
Chopping smoked streaky bacon
Heat a little olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the bacon until crisp.
Frying smoked bacon
Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Finely chop the onion and garlic, thinly slice the celery and dice the carrot.
Chopped vegetables for the base of a hearty minestrone soup
Fry altogether in the remaining bacon fat (topped up with a little olive oil if necessary) for 10 minutes until soft.
Frying the vegetables in the bacon fat
Softened vegetables for the base of a hearty minestrone soup
3. Stir in the tomato puree and then add the stock and chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
Adding liquid to the hearty minestrone soup
4. Add the crisp bacon, kale, spaghetti and beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve piping hot at the table
Adding the extras for a hearty minestrone soup
Adding the extras for a hearty minestrone soup
Bringing the soup to temperature
This soup will absolutely stand up as a meal in itself, but serve with some crusty bread and real butter for a special treat or to make the servings go further.
Homemade hearty minestrone soup served with sourdough bread and butter
I highly, highly recommend serving this with a generous dollop of fresh pesto. I had the idea because we had a half-used, shop-bought tub sitting in the fridge, leftover from pizza-making the night before, but it was such an amazing accompaniment that I had to whizz up some more the second night that we ate this soup. You can find my recipe for homemade pesto here – give it a go, you’ll thank me! A little grating of parmesan on top will also be welcomed here, as would chopped basil or parsley or even some crunchy croutons.
Homemade hearty minestrone soup for two
Do you have a go-to minestrone recipe? What are your favourite secret ingredients or toppings?

Winter spiced pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds

Lightly spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds
I love Halloween. Nostalgic memories of getting dressed up and perfecting a doorstep-routine in order to go trick-or-treating and collect a haul of sweets. Ridiculously messy games like ducking for apples and treacle scones or doughnuts on string. Dark nights inside with blankets, candles lit and a scary movie (which I actually hate, but it always makes it better if there’s someone else who hates them more than you…naming no names ahem). And, of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkin carving.

However, pumpkins aren’t just for carving. At the moment, during autumn, the squash family are in their prime and they have a delicious sweet flavour that works equally well in savoury dishes and puddings alike. I have a classic pumpkin pie recipe for you later in the week, but today’s post is all savoury with a lightly spiced pumpkin soup and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Even if you are carving your pumpkin, don’t throw away the seeds inside – frying these off with a bit of spice is super easy and they’re so tasty. But the flesh of the pumpkin is the real prize, so pick up an extra pumpkin while you’re getting some for carving, and try this gorgeous soup, flavoured with warming spices like chilli, paprika and nutmeg and made into a hearty meal with some red lentils. A perfect autumn lunch.
Ingredients for spiced pumpkin soup
Ingredients
Large pumpkin (about 3.5kg)
2 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
3 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
100g lentils
1 tsp chilli flakes
3 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
Grating of whole nutmeg
3 litres chicken stock
Salt and pepper

For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Prepare the pumpkin. The easiest way to handle a large pumpkin is to cut it into manageable chunks using a large, very sharp knife. Cut one side away and scoop out the seeds inside with your hands – put these in a bowl of cold water for later. You can scrape away even more of the stringy innards that are stuck to the flesh using a spoon. Cut the rest of the pumpkin into big chunks, throwing away the stalk. Using a smaller, but equally sharp, knife cut away the tough skin and chop into small cubes.
Rinsing the pumpkin seeds
Chopped pumpkin for winter soup
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Once the butter starts to bubble, throw in the onion and garlic and fry for a few minutes.
Browning onions for pumpkin soup
3. Toss the pumpkin pieces in the onion and continue to cook for about five minutes until the pumpkin begins to brown and soften. Tip in the lentils, chilli flakes, paprika, cinnamon and about 1/3 of a whole nutmeg grated. Mix well and continue to fry for a couple of minutes.
Adding the pumpkin, spices and lentils
4. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Season, pop a lid on the pan and lower the heat a bit so that the soup is just simmering. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin and lentils are tender.
Adding the stock to the soup
5. Leave the soup to cool and then blend until smooth – you can do this in a counter-top blender, but a hand blender is even quicker and easier. Of course, you can just use a masher if you prefer a chunkier texture.
Spiced pumpkin soup to be blended
Pumpkin soup blitzed with a hand blender
6. After immersing the pumpkin seeds in cold water, the gunk around the seeds should sink to the bottom and come away easily. Lay the seeds out on paper towels to dry while you heat a frying pan. Dry fry the pumpkin seeds, moving them around in the pan until they start to brown. Sprinkle over the ground cumin and coriander and some salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Keep an eye on the seeds as they can burn quickly. Turn the heat off and set aside to cool.
Toasting the pumpkin seeds
Dry frying the pumpkin seeds with spices
To serve, heat the soup and sprinkle over a few pumpkin seeds for extra texture. Some warmed crusty bread with butter, or even garlic bread, is a perfect accompaniment. The soup will keep in the fridge for a week, and of course can be frozen for longer. The seeds should store well in an airtight container and are great for snacking on if you’re in need of a nibble.