Instant carrot and tomato soup

I know I shouldn’t complain, but living in a building site is starting to get me down. The fact that I also have to work in one (my office building has been yellow-stickered and I’d rather not take my chances of surviving if it collapses), is adding insult to injury.

Working from home certainly has its advantages, but I struggled to find any today thanks to the bitterly cold wind turning the place into an icebox. Then I remembered that I could make myself something warming and restoring for lunch in between phone calls and emails and life seemed a little brighter. Here’s what I did.

Easy Tomato And Carrot Soup

Instant Carrot and Tomato Soup
This soup is inspired by – but unrecognisably different to – one in Soup Glorious Soup by Annie Bell. Hers involves carrots and scallops; I like to think of this one as a simpler, humbler relation. It’s an excellent rescue remedy for cold days when it feels like there’s nothing to eat (and it only takes 20 minutes to make, most of which is hands-free). This amount makes enough for two, but is easy to scale up as necessary. Don’t try to scale it down – just freeze the leftover amount for a rainy day. And for more vegetarian soup-y ideas, you might like to check out the links at No Croutons Required (though it’s ok to add croutons if you want.)

500g carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 x 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
400ml (approx) good quality stock or water
salt and pepper
cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt, for swirling

Put the carrots and whole peeled tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan and set it over medium heat. Using the tomato tin, measure in the stock or water. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the carrots are soft enough to collapse at the prod of a fork, remove from the heat. Blitz to a puree with a stick blender or in a food processor (the latter is faster but involves more washing up afterwards), then season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat until starting to simmer, then serve with a spoonful of cream, creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt swirled across the top.

Do you work from home? What do you make for lunch?

Hands-free pumpkin soup

Do you shy away from buying whole pumpkins because it’s such a struggle to cut them up? Well, this is the recipe for you. This is about as hands-free as soup making gets – the oven does all the hard work and all you have to do is a little light stirring and blending at the end. Plus, it looks incredibly cool. What’s not to love about that?

Roast pumpkin, peanut and chipotle soup

1 large crown pumpkin, pierced in a couple of places with a sharp knife
3 onions, unpeeled
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or a spoonful of harissa, to taste)
1/2 cup good quality peanut butter
water or vegetable stock
salt and pepper

Put the pumpkin on a large, solid baking tray and shove in the oven. Turn the oven to 150C. Leave the pumpkin for about 45 minutes, then put the onions and garlic on the same tray. Bake for another 45-60 minutes, until the onions are soft and the pumpkin is tender when prodded with a fork.
Let everything cool until you can touch it, then carefully peel the onions and garlic, discarding the skin and root ends. Put them into a large pot.
Cut a lid from the pumpkin, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1.5-centimetre shell. Add the flesh to the onions and garlic, then add the chipotles, peanut butter and a cupful of stock or water. Stir well and set over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, taste for seasoning. Add more stock or water to thin it down a little, then blitz with a stick blender.
If you’re going to serve it in the pumpkin, return it to the heat until it’s bubbling again, then gently ladle it back inside the pumpkin shell. Do not attempt to lift the shell from the roasting dish, just take it to the table in all its rustic glory. Serves 4-6.

Souper man

Something wonderful has started happening at our house on Sunday afternoons. There’s the sound of chopping, the smell of roasting vegetables, a hint of chilli and then the whirr of the stick blender. The Boy Wonder has discovered soup making. And you know what? He is getting quite good at it.

This soup goes into containers for take-to-work lunches, which means I have to resort to banana toasties less often and he can avoid the hideous work cafe. He is ridiculously proud of himself. Last week he even sent me an email while he ate (bear in mind we sit about 20ft away from each other): “My lunch is AMAZING!” it said. You have to love a man who does that. Or, perhaps I have to.

Souperhero Soup
I am not allowed to interfere with this process at all, but I did give him a few pointers before he started so these instructions are solely based on that. Quantities are approximate – my beloved is not a details man – though he has learned that birds’ eye chillies are not less hot because they are smaller than the others.

A roasting dish full of peeled and chopped pumpkin, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and onions or leeks – whatever you have
olive oil
few cloves of garlic
a few ribs of celery
a chilli or two
chicken/vegetable stock

Heat the oven to 180C. Drizzle the roasting dish full of vegetables with oil and put it in the oven for 30-40 minutes until everything is cooked and beginning to brown up a bit.
Meanwhile, take a pot big enough to take all the vegetables and gently saute the garlic, celery and chilli in another slosh of olive oil until soft. Tip in the cooked vegetables and stir well, then cover with chicken stock. Bring to a gentle simmer for 5-10 minutes, then taste for seasoning. Puree with a stick blender, then summon your wife to admire your greatness.

What’s your new favourite packed lunch at the moment?

Random Recipe #10: Moro Soup

A note to Antipodean readers before we begin: I’m sorry if you were enticed here by the ‘Moro Soup’ heading. This is not a post about turning the iconic chocolate bar, apparently beloved by triathletes (if you believe the ad campaigns), into a soup. Stop reading now before you get disappointed.

For everyone else, the real title should be ‘Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway’. It’s from Moro East, the lovely book by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro restaurant fame about their East End allotment, with recipes from fellow allotment holders interspersed with their own creations. It’s particularly poignant now as the allotment has been bulldozed in the name of the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps athletes do exist on chocolate bars after all.

Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway
The book was my choice for Random Recipes #10, brought to you by Belleau Kitchen AND Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, who hosts a monthly soup challenge called No Croutons Required. Not only does this deliciously rustic soup fit the NCR vegetarian criteria, but it just happened to use the huge bunch of celery and masses of spring onions in my fridge. I took a few shortcuts along the way – I used two tins of cannellini beans rather than soaking and cooking my own, plus I used a tin of tomatoes rather than “500g of flavoursome fresh tomatoes”, as the latter are pretty thin on the ground here at present.
However I faithfully followed the recipe for DIY celery salt, which is completely addictive. Even if you’re not in the mood for soup, you’ve got to try this.

250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight, then drained and cooked in fresh water for about an hour, or until tender (or two tins of beans, drained and rinsed)
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of celery, trimmed of roots but including leaves, sliced into 2cm chunks
8 spring onions, roots trimed but including green tops, sliced into 1cm chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
500g fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped (or 1 440g tin)
1tsp celery salt (recipe follows)

To serve:
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
a small bunch of rocket
black olives
Turkish bread
Celery salt

Heat six tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, then add the spring onions, garlic, caraway and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the tomatoes and celery salt and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the beans and either 250ml of their cooking liquid or water, plus the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of celery salt. Rocket, spring onions, black olives and Turkish bread are suggested accompaniments. Makes enough for four.

DIY Celery Salt
Take a handful of green celery leaves and put them on a baking tray. Dry them in a low-medium oven until completely dry but not scorched (takes about 10 minutes). Crumble to a powder with your fingers, then mix with equal parts of flaky (eg Marlborough or Maldon) salt.

Rustic Tomato & Rosemary Soup

Brrrr! Baby, it’s cold outside. Actually, it’s cold inside, which is even worse. Time for a warming, stick-to-your-ribs sort of soup – and this one, which I test-drove in the weekend after a long absence, is just the ticket.

Rustic Tomato & Rosemary Soup
This is a version of a soup in Catherine Bell’s Everyday Epicurean, a really useful book with lots of lovely things for, err, every day.

4Tbsp olive oil
2 red onions
2Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups tinned tomatoes (about a 440g tin)
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups water
salt and pepper

Saute the onions in the oil until golden. Add the rosemary, tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook for five minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for another five minutes, then pour in the water. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, mashing the potatoes into the soup as they break down. You will end up with a thick, rustic looking soup, Thin it down with a little water if necessary. Serve very hot, with lots of crusty bread and shaved Parmesan. Serves four.