Fennel and leek soup

When I’m poorly I tend to fall back on childhood favourites in an attempt to make myself feel better, almost using memories as a placebo. I think everyone has their traditional sickness staples they can rely on to make themselves more comfortable; mine always included a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, a bottle of Lucozade and a pile of Iron Man comics. And of course soup.

If I felt nauseous, my mum would make me drink a pint of milk. It took me many years to realise that it just made me almost instantly sick; a pretty old-school remedy with a slightly cruel edge but better out than in I suppose. It’s this harking back to my youth that makes me always crave soup when ill.

Cream of chicken soup to be exact. I’m certainly not the only one to go down this route. The Spartans pretty much only ate ‘black soup’ (pig’s legs, blood, salt and vinegar) and they were pretty healthy. Steinbeck mentions its healing reputation in East Of Eden. Even Gandhi’s son was prescribed chicken soup when diagnosed with pneumonia. Couldn’t eat it though – vegetarian.

Managing to crawl to the fridge (like a slug) I found a potato, a couple of leeks, some old dill and a bulb of fennel. Is that right? A bulb? Or is it a head? Anyway, a pretty good haul for some healthy, re-energising soup to clear the head and vitalise the soul. Or something.

Not much needed for this one. Let the ingredients do the talking.

Fennel and leek soup.

1 bulb/head fennel, sliced

2 medium leeks, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 medium potato

A handful of dill, chopped

1 tsp oregano

1 litre vegetable stock

Ground black pepper

Melt a bit of butter in a pan and add the leek, garlic and fennel. Simmer until softened. Add the potato and oregano and mix well. Pour in the stock and then simmer for around 20 minutes until the potato is cooked through. Blend the mixture until smooth.

Quick aside here – at this point my blender broke. When I tried to detach the top, the bottom snapped off pouring soup all over the worktop. It was so frustrating I nearly cried.

Pour the mixture into a clean pan and bring back to temperature. Taste and season – I found that it didn’t need any salt – and stir in the dill. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or a drizzle of cream and garnish with a bit of that fluffy stuff from the top of the fennel or a sprig of dill.

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Waste not want not.

On Sunday my housemates and I gathered for a day of wining, dining and hangover refining. There’s something altogether fun and gratifying about making an effort as a group to create a meal that’s just a bit more special than usual. We polished our best crockery, laid the table and tucked into that invincible British staple, the Sunday roast. The usual suspects were in attendance – roast spuds, honeyed carrots, unrisen Yorkshire puddings – and my personal favourite; braised red cabbage. It’s sweet, it’s acidic, and it’s silky in the mouth. Pile a little bit into a Yorkshire pudding and fill with gravy. Awesome!

Anyhoo, after any roast dinner you invariably end up with pots full of leftover veg that normally goes to waste, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it up. I came up with red cabbage and feta fried pasties (snappy!). The sweetness of the cabbage goes well with the saltiness of the cheese and, served with a nice salad, is a lovely way to use up your leftovers in a light Monday meal. First up though, here’s how I make my slow braised red cabbage:

–       1 red cabbage, shredded

–       2 apples, cored and cubed

–       1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

–       2 tbsp white wine vinegar

–       1 cinnamon stick

–       a good grating of nutmeg

–       A sprinkle of sugar if you like it very sweet.

Shred the cabbage thinly, removing the hard white core. Heat a bit of groundnut oil (or other flavourless oil) in a heavy based pan and then add the cabbage. Keep stirring for 5 minutes or so until you start to see the vibrant purple seep into the oil. Mix the balsamic and wine vinegar together. Add the apple and 2/3 of the vinegar (and the sugar if you are using) to the pan and mix well. Put a lid on and place over a medium heat.  Keep checking on the consistency as it’s cooking and add a little bit more vinegar if it needs more liquid. Keep it cooking until it’s a texture that you like – I like to cook it a long time so that the apple breaks down and the texture is, for want of a better word, smushy. The great thing about red cabbage is, once cooked, it will be happy sitting and waiting for the rest of the meal. If anything it becomes tastier!

You will probably find that you have quite a bit of this left over the day after. Pop it in a parcel and fry the bugger.

You will need;

–       250g plain flour

–       100g butter, cut into cubes

–       1 egg beaten

–       Sunflower oil

–       Left over red cabbage

–       Feta, about 150g (or however much you want really!)

Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Keep this up until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can also do this in a food processor but I don’t because I cant afford one! Or rather I keep spending all my money on other, less important and often stupid things. Mix in the beaten egg and bring together to form a ball of dough. At this point wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a half hour or so. I don’t know why you should do this; I just always thought you should! Crumble the feta cheese into the red cabbage and mix well. It’s good to leave some chunky bits of cheese in there, as they are a pleasure to bite through. Roll out the pastry so it is very thin; you want it to crisp up but without a stodgy layer below. Cut into circles, not too big, maybe the size of a small saucer. Heat about a half-inch layer of the oil in a pan until hot. Put a bit of the cabbage and feta filling in the centre of the pastry circles, wet the edges with a bit of water and fold over into a semi-circle. Seal the edges by either pinching with your fingers or, as I prefer, using a fork to stick it together. Put in the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden, about 4-5 mins on each side. Done! I purposely made too many because they are great either hot or cold. I ate them hot on the Monday with a nice bean and tomato salad and then packed a couple the next day for a snack while I was out, which ended up being eaten by other people anyway!