Hip to be square…once in a while.

A dumping ground for leftovers and a chef’s favourite for Monday night specials, soup can be a disappointment if made without love.  Call me sentimental (at your own risk), but no amount of butter can make up for soup that has been made without love.

This has nothing to do with speed, however.  Making soup need not be a lengthy or laboured process.  It should be a fun and essentially satisfying experience.  It should begin with simple, fresh ingredients and end in a bowl that provides sustenance and a little of the season’s best.

I’ve mentioned my sinful tampering with perfectly good recipes, but today I wanted to show that I too can create something simple and honest.  A bowl of something that is proud of the ingredients it contains.  A spoonful of something that doesn’t need dressing up.  A mouthful of something that tastes exactly as you’d expect.  I’m serious!

The nights are drawing in.  The temperature is falling.  Salads just aren’t called for.  The season of soup has begun.  My love of chestnut mushrooms means it is time for me to share my version of a classic soup.  No twists and no surprises.  Just bags of flavour.

Classic cream of mushroom soup.

500g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

1 pint chicken stock

quarter of a pint of semi-skimmed milk

40g butter

2 tblspoons plain flour

tonnes of black pepper

sea salt

a little double cream to serve

First of all, you’ll notice that there’s no onion, no garlic and no alcohol in the ingredients list.  This soup tastes of one thing and one thing only- mushrooms.  It’s creamy, it’s tasty and it needs no craziness.

Melt the butter in a soup pan and fry the sliced mushrooms on a high heat until they begin to brown.  At this point I like to grind lots and lots of black pepper over the mushrooms.  You can do this to taste.  I like a lot.  Don’t add salt yet.  If your butter is burning, add a drop of olive oil.

Next, add the flour and coat the mushrooms.  Cook it for a couple of minutes and then pour in the stock and milk.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes.  You may need to whisk the soup to get rid of the lumps of flour.

Take the soup off the heat and blend with a hand blender.  Don’t make the soup too smooth; it’s nice to have the texture of the mushrooms.  Place the soup back on the heat and add salt if necessary to taste.

Ladle into bowls and pour some double cream in to serve.

The many faces of filo.

“Aah, filo pastry.  We have been expecting you.”  I can’t help feeling guilty when I make something using filo pastry.  First of all, pastry isn’t exactly a superfood and folk who take care of their bodies won’t thank you for a big ol’ pie.  Secondly, filo pastry is so versatile and easy to use.  Yes, I said easy!  Don’t let the television scaremongerers put you off experimenting with it.  Filo does dry out quickly and is very delicate, but it is also easy to cut, fold, layer and shape.  The fact that you can produce savoury or sweet dishes with ease, adds to the appeal.

Previously, I’ve had fun making chocolate filo parcels and when it comes to Greek puddings, filo is never too far away (that reminds me, I need to post a recipe for a lovely Greek pudding).  Filo has always been my go-to pastry for sweet stuff, but over the weekend, I found myself with some spare fresh filo and a box of beautiful chestnut mushrooms.  They have a wonderful nutty flavour and I’ve stocked up on them so that I can make my favourite mushroom soup.  However, we needed lunch in a matter of minutes and I wanted something interesting.  Filo to the rescue.

Le Roule & mushroom filo parcels

(Recipe makes 2 parcels)

2 sheets filo pastry

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

2 small handfuls fresh rocket leaves

2 tblspoons Le Roule cheese

25g melted butter

salt & pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Lay the sheets of filo out and cut them in half to form two squares.  Brush the squares with melted butter and lay a second filo square on top of each.  These will be your parcels.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in a little butter on a high heat until cooked through and beginning to brown at the edges.  Grind some black pepper over them, but  don’t add salt yet.  Salt draws out moisture from the mushrooms and makes them soggy.  Yuk!

Put a little pile of fresh rocket onto the filo square and top with half of the mushrooms.  Season with salt.  Add a tablespoon of Le Roule on the top and then brush the edges of the square with melted butter.  Now bring two opposite corners of the square together, placing one under the other and brushing them with a little more butter.  Do the same with the remaining corners to form a parcel.

Brush the whole parcel with melted butter and place on a lined baking tray in the centre of the oven for about fifteen minutes or until the parcel is golden and the pastry crispy.  Be careful, the contents will be very hot.

Feeling hungry, I went on to make another parcel using baby plum tomatoes and basil leaves.  I added grated Cheddar instead of Le Roule and sprinkled some dried oregano on for good measure.  The result was something like a little pizza parcel, so it goes without saying that I was enthralled.  Filo may not be forgiving, but it is rewarding.  Give it a go!

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli.

Almost two years ago, my mum came round for dinner and I made a small starter of wild mushroom ravioli served with a little rocket and some crispy slices of black pudding. The combination of black pudding and mushrooms worked well and since then, lots of different ideas have been floating around in my subconscious.

The success of my first pasta attempts emboldened me enough to resurrect this flavour combination and see if I could make it work as a whole dish. Here is my recipe and a few photographs of that successful experiment. Is it something you’d eat?

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli with creamy mediterranean herb sauce

For the pasta-

300g ’00′ flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the filling-

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

150g Bury black pudding

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the sauce-

150ml double cream

large nob of butter

small bunch of thyme

small bunch of oregano

salt & pepper

I combined the ingredients for the pasta in a bowl and mix to a soft dough.  I then kneaded the dough for ten minutes until it was smooth and silky.  Then it was time to chill the dough by wrapping it well in clingfilm and putting it into the fridge for an hour.  I fried the mushrooms on a very high heat until they began to brown and set them aside.  Then I sliced the black pudding thinly and fried it at an equally high temperature, making sure to break it up and cook it until it was crispy.  Once it had cooled, I blitzed it with the mushrooms using a hand blender.  A little seasoning finished the filling.

Back to the pasta.  I don’t have a pasta machine.  I may well invest.  Apart from great results and inner satisfaction, rolling your own pasta also provides you with a workout.  Slightly out of breath (but no less happy), I made sure that I could see through the pasta before stopping.  At this point, I spooned the filling onto the sheet of pasta at regular intervals.  I used a pastry brush to wet all around the filling.  This would act as glue when the top sheet was laid upon it.

Ravioli waiting to be cut.

The hardest part was laying the top sheet over the filling and getting rid of all the air in between.  This is where the water helped to bind the pasta.  Pressing firmly around the filling, I pushed as much of the air out of the sides as possible.  This would prevent the trapped air expanding in the pan and bursting the ravioli.  Admittedly, as a novice, I hated this part of the process and was extremely relieved when it was accomplished.  I hadn’t done a great job of shaping the pasta sheets into regular shapes.  This made cutting a little tricky.  All went well, though one thing I’ll remember for next time is to leave less pasta between the filling and the edge of the ravioli.  Frightened of the ravioli not being secure, I left far too much pasta around the edges.

Fresh ravioli and some herbs from the garden.

I started the sauce a few minutes before dropping the ravioli into a pan of boiling water.  Loads of butter into a milk pan.  Chopped fresh oregano and thyme straight into the foaming butter.  Then the double cream with brisk stirring and a little salt and pepper.  More butter if necessary and then a gentle simmer.

The ravioli needs three or four minutes of cooking once it has risen to the surface of the water.  In terms of taste, the flavours all worked well and the creamy sauce softened what is quite a bold pasta dish.  In retrospect, I would serve two or three ravioli with this sauce as a starter.  It was way too filling as a main.  It’s a really distinctive dish and one that I’m proud of.  It’s certainly a great way to enjoy Bury’s best in a unique format.

A lovely dish, but so filling.