Monday, 27 October 2008

Parsnip, Apple and Cheddar Soup

There is frost on the windows this morning. This is a sure sign that I can indulge myself for (hopefully) the next few months in my love of wearing far too many of my different coats at any given opportunity. I do have too many. My wife has banned me from buying any more but I always manage to sneak one in. I am the Imelda Marcos of the coat world - well, after Liam Gallagher anyway.

Back in the kitchen, it is soup time. What with this credit crunch malarkey and the need for people to keep warm on cheap sustainable food over the winter, there is nothing better than soup to turn to. Whether it is a 'bottom of the fridge' soup in which you chuck everything into the pan, or a refined 'posh' soup using only the very best ingredients (smoked salmon and black truffle soup anybody?), soup is easy to make and accompanied with some crusty bread, becomes a meal in a bowl.

This soup uses what are in my opinion two of our very best seasonal ingredients at the moment - parsnip and apple - amongst a bumper selection of great autumnal produce. Some strong Cheddar cheese takes down the sweetness a tone or two and that is needed, especially if you decide to use some of the older and larger parsnips that have had a lot of their starch converted into sugar. So make a bowl and be happy that the cold snap has arrived. I know I am - so I'm off to get me coat.

Parsnip, Apple and Cheddar Soup
Serves 4

5 parsnips
1 large Bramley apple
1 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 litre hot vegetable stock
150g Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200C.
2 – Peel and halve the parsnips and place into a baking tray. Score a line all around the apple and place into the baking tray. Finally, peel and quarter the onion and put that into the baking tray. Drizzle on the olive oil and coat the fruit and vegetables.
3 – Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 25 minutes, or until the onion and parsnip are golden and the apple has gone soft.
4 – Scrape out the apple flesh and put into a blender along with the onion and parsnips. Pour over the stock and blend until smooth. Pour through a sieve into a clean pan.
5 – Grate in the cheese and stir until melted through. Taste for seasoning. Serve in bowls with more grated cheese on top.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Poached Wild Salmon on Roast pumpkin with Northumbrian mussels and Samphire

One of my very favourite vegetables in this season of great produce is the pumpkin. Most families around the country will soon be carving faces into them, sticking a candle inside and wandering the dark streets in an attempt to get a few sweets from people. The pumpkin will then probably get thrown into the bin and forgotten about for another year.

What a shame. Anybody that condemns this supreme vegetable to such a sorry end is missing out on one of Mother Nature's finest versatile vegetables. Carve out that face, but ensure you scrape out as much flesh as possible and use that flesh in a multitude of recipes. There is nothing simpler than a plain old pumpkin soup, hopefully roasted before pureeing to ensure a deep sweetness. Bacon added to the mix make things even better. Or get the flesh into a casserole or stew instead of the carrots or parsnips for a change. Keep the seeds and roast them with a little soy sauce and chilli flakes for a healthy snack.

I like to slice one up into thin slices, toss in a little olive oil and season with plenty of black pepper and good salt then roast until the flesh is toasty and caramelised, the skin chewy and sweet. You then have an alternative vegetable accompaniment to your fish or meat. A dressing of orange, chilli, honey and parsley and a scattering of a spicy leaf such as watercress or rocket, you can skip the rest and simply eat this beautiful vegetable as it is. Now get carving.

Poached Wild Salmon on Roast pumpkin with Northumbrian mussels and Samphire

Feeds 4

1 small pumpkin, deseeded and sliced into 16 lengths
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 pieces of wild salmon fillets, skinned
8 handfuls of live mussels
A small glass of water
4 handfuls of samphire
50g butter
Juice of one lemon
4 handfuls of basil leaves
4 tbsp olive oil

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM 6. Put the pumpkin into a baking tray and rub in the olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Place onto a high shelf and bake for 20-30 minutes until beginning to colour and soften.
2 – Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Place in the salmon fillets, reduce the heat and poach for 5 minutes.
3 – Heat up a pan with a lid until hot then place in the mussels. Pour in the water and replace the lid. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shells have opened. Drain in a colander, put back into the pan and add the samphire and butter. Cook for a further minute.
4 – Bash the basil with a little salt in a pestle and mortar until you have a green paste. Stir in the lemon juice and the olive oil. Taste for seasoning.
5 – Arrange 3 slices of pumpkin onto each plate. Place on the salmon. Surround with the mussels and samphire then drizzle on some dressing.