Herbs

Parsley soup

parsley soup 2.jpg

I was watching Rick Stein on one of his long weekends in Bordeaux over Christmas. He was gushing about French markets selling huge bunches of herbs and how that didn’t really happen in the UK. But the following week I went into my local greengrocers (Fred Hallam in Beeston, Nottingham) and low and behold they were selling enormous bunches of locally grown parsley just like the Bordeaux market.

I couldn’t resist buying lots of it. I added parsley to everything that week but still had plenty left over. I then remembered this soup recipe where parsley is the main ingredient (which coincidentally is a Rick Stein one). It is one of my all time favourite soups and the perfect lunch for a cold, wet January day when one is trying to be a little more healthy after all that Christmas indulgence.

You do however need a good, cheap parsley supply – it would cost a fortune if you had to make it with those measly 30g bags from the supermarket.

Parsley soup

  • 2 large leeks or 2 small onions
  • A huge bunch of parsley (curly or flat leaf) approximately 200g
  • 75g of butter (you can use less if you’re watching your fat content, I use about half this amount and it still has a nice velvety texture)
  • 275g of floury potatoes, chopped into small cubes (I don’t bother peeling them)
  • 1.2 litres of chicken stock (home-made is best but stock cubes or pots are fine)
  • You can add double cream if you like (the original Rick Stein recipe uses 50ml) but I don’t think this is necessary

If using leeks then discard the darker green tops and chop roughly, alternatively roughly chop the onion.

Roughly chop the parsley stalks and leaves, reserving a handful of the bright green leaves for later.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the parsley and leeks/onion and soften gently for about 5 minutes.

Now add the potatoes and chicken stock then cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Blitz the whole lot in a food processor along with the handful of uncooked parsley leaves until very smooth.

Return to the pan and season with salt and pepper (and add the double cream if you like).

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Rosemary butter cookies

lavender biscuits

Despite having my own blog I don’t follow many others, but I’d like to tell you about two of my favourites, just in case you don’t know about them already.

Recipe Rifle

The first is Recipe Rifle by Esther Walker (she’s the wife of Giles Coren but don’t let that put you off). There’s usually a recipe but the bit I like most are the introductions – hilarious and honest stories about her life with young kids. If (like me) you are often exasperated by your children, do trawl through the archives of this blog – you’ll feel as though you’ve found a friend. Esther eloquently tells it how it is – putting in words what many of us really feel about motherhood whilst outwardly smiling and telling our friends how much we’re ‘loving it’.

Cupcakes and Cashmere

In complete contrast is smiley Emily who writes ‘Cupcakes and Cashmere‘. This blog is the epitome of shallow but it’s beautiful presentation lures you in like, well just like a pretty cupcake. She writes posts like ‘How to style your bookshelf’ (you mean there’s another way apart from alphabetically?). Her food is always tiny, and immaculately presented and often includes stars, hearts and sprinkles. Despite becoming a new mother recently (when surely it should have all gone to pot!) she continues to look elegant wearing tiny skirts and beautiful shoes. There are no photos of sleep deprived/puffy eyes, there is no whinging, just lots of sunshine and all American positivity. I should hate her but Emily is so likable and sweet – like a Disney Princess. Reading her blog I feel as though she genuinely wants to show me a better way.

But Esther is now finishing her Recipe Rifle blog which I’m gutted about, but on hearing her disarmingly honest reasons perhaps it’s for the best.

‘When I was in the eye of the storm I was a better person, I thought more deeply, I was more sensitive, attuned and intellectually alive. Now all I think about is my career and clothes. That’s it. I chase the high of a new commission and the high of total, sheer, vanity.’

It seems that Esther fears turning into Emily, or rather she fears that ‘Recipe Rifle’ will become like ‘Cupcakes and Cashmere’. From my point of view I don’t really want to read one without the counter balance of the other, so I’ll probably give up blogs entirely and read Victorian novels and Elizabeth David cookery books instead.

Anyway, despite food being a key part of both of these blogs, I have only ever tried one recipe from either. It was this Martha Stewart one which Emily recommended, accompanied by some photos of her own version which were, of course, more beautiful and perfectly formed than the original.

Mine were ugly but tasted delicious. I also had the idea of adding lavender instead of rosemary to half the batch. This was with my son Edgar in mind. He hates ALL fruit but eats lavender straight off the plant without blinking an eye.

Rosemary (or Lavender) Butter Cookies

Makes about 30

  • 225g of soft butter
  • 170g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 312g of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary OR lavender flowers
  • 3/4 of a teaspoon of coarse sea salt

Mix the butter and the sugar together until pale and fluffy. I used an electric hand whisk for this bit but you could probably just use a wooden spoon.

Mix in the egg and vanilla extract, then add the flour, salt and rosemary OR lavender. Mix until well combined.

Halve the dough and shape each into a log with floured hands.

Place each log on a square of baking parchment and roll up into a log about 3 3/4 cm in diameter twisting the ends to keep the shape. Put in the freezer  for an hour to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 190oC.

Cut each log into 1 cm thick rounds and place on a flat baking tray lined with parchment. You will need two trays and probably two batches for this amount.

Bake until the edges are golden 15-20 minutes (mine were pretty well done after 15).

Cool on wire trays and store in an airtight container.

Options:

Martha recommends using a loo roll around the log to hold the shape while freezing. I didn’t think this was necessary.

She also paints the logs with egg white and rolls in sanding sugar before cutting into rounds. I still don’t know exactly what ‘sanding sugar’ is (they don’t sell it in Tesco so I think you may need to find a specialist cake decorating shop). I used granulated sugar instead on half the batch but to be honest preferred the ones without.

Broad bean salad

broad bean and bacon salad

When I was a child my list of worst nightmare foods would have included, liver, mushrooms, black pudding and melted cheese. At the top of the list though would have been broad beans. I have terrible memories of chewing through tough leathery skins to reveal that disgusting chalky texture and for years I didn’t dare touch them.

But then we started to grow broad beans on our allotment (because they’re notoriously easy to grow and we were a bit rubbish) and this was the recipe that completely converted me. Trust Delia to get it right but having said that anything mixed with crispy bacon is usually nice. Now I can’t wait for the first broad beans of the season.

This salad is best with really fresh young broad beans. I’ve learnt that when the broad beans get old and tough you have to take the time to remove the white outer layer of skin and even then it’s best to turn them into broad bean hummus (if you want a recipe for this see my post).

Delia Smith’s broad bean salad

Serves 2

  • 700g of broad beans (shelled), or thereabouts
  • 2 rashers of lean, smoked bacon (without the rind), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs (I use marjoram and parsley)
  • 4 spring onions

For the dressing

  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard powder
  • 1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 dessertspoon of white wine vinegar
  • 1 level teaspoon of crushed rock salt
  • Freshly milled black pepper to taste
  • 4 dessertspoons of flavourless oil (like groundnut or sunflower oil)

First fry the bacon until it’s really crisp and set aside.

Make the dressing by placing all the ingredients in a jam jar and shaking until well amalgamated.

Next cook the broad beans in boiling water until tender. The time this takes will depend on how young and fresh they are (I usually find that they are done once they float to the surface of the water and this tends to be somewhere between 1 and 3 minutes).

If you’re making this later in the broad bean season then it’s best to pop the inside out of the white layer of skin which tends to be thick and chewy when the beans are older.

Drain thoroughly and toss them in the dressing while they are still warm. Stir in the bacon and spring onion and serve.

I like to serve with some cucumber and salad leaves. If you’re feeling particularly lavish then a poached egg on top works brilliantly.