Peas, perfect peas.

A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of making soup with love.  Today I’m going to make soup with peas.  The humble pea could easily be ignored by individuals keen to enjoy the meat from their roast dinner.  Children and adults might dislike the flavour of peas and find their colour or texture unappealing.  Not so in our household, where the pea has been given hero status due to its versatility and easy preparation.  My children have known from very early on in their lives that peas are our friends.  In pies; in stews; in fish suppers; in paella; in pilaf; in times of sorrow, peas will see you through.  If you thought that was hyperbole, you should hear me preach about carrots.

Earlier today, a casual conversation about soup (yes, we have so many casual soup conversations, don’t we?) sparked an immediate longing in me to make pea soup.  A colleague of mine, named Mrs. P for the purpose of this blog post, mentioned her love of pea and ham soup with dumplings.  Instantly, I pictured the open pack of bacon in my fridge (in a similar way that the internal cameras on the new Samsung smart fridge display the contents of each shelf- it’s going to be on my Christmas list for a while).  Pea and bacon soup was now on the horizon.

 

Fast forward to this evening and peas take centre stage in a comforting soup that couldn’t be easier to make.  Admittedly, I didn’t add dumplings this time because they went straight into a beef stew that had been cooking all day.  Next time, I’ll be ready.  For now, here’s my recipe for  pea and bacon soup (with photographs taken at night).  I could make more excuses about the image quality, but let’s face it, you didn’t come here for pretty pictures- you came here for peas.

Pea and bacon soup

500g frozen peas

4 rashers bacon

1 large potato (peeled and diced)

1 onion (sliced)

vegetable stock

1 tblspoon butter

small handful of flat leaf parsley

salt

pepper

I begin by frying the bacon in a little vegetable oil until crispy.  I then set it aside on kitchen paper and pat it dry before slicing it into strips.

To make the soup, gently fry the onion in butter and then add the diced potato before the onion browns.  Cook for a further minute or so and continue to stir.  Add all of the frozen peas and pour in the stock until the peas are just covered.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes until the potato is soft.  Add more stock if necessary.  Take the soup off the heat and add a small handful of torn flat parsley leaves. Use a hand blender to blitz the soup.  I usually leave a nice bit of texture to the soup, but you could make it completely smooth if you preferred.  Taste it and season it.  I tend to season it carefully because the bacon is salty enough together with the stock.

Stir in the bacon and add more stock to achieve the desired texture.  I love eating soup with crusty bread, but you could easily add dumplings or croutons to this.  You might even want to keep some strips of the fried bacon to garnish the soup.

Give it a go!  It’s a sure-fire way to bring peas and joy to your home.

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Ena, dio, tria…mini pasties!

The most famous of all pasties are those made in Cornwall.  This little trio of pasties is a far cry from the giant Cornish beauties, but they are delicious!

I was ill last weekend and felt so rough, that I didn’t even cook.  It’s left me feeling eager to cook and write this week.  To begin with, I needed to use up some puff pastry in my freezer to make a little room.  I had such a great time making pasties last year that I thought it would be a good starting point for something new.

One of my favourite ingredients is Chorizo, so I thought that a nice chicken and Chorizo pasty would be fun.  Some peppers, some onions and some potato for substance.  Having bought the chicken, I then started toying with the idea of another filling and soon I’d made my mind up to try making a pesto chicken pasty.

Before I knew it, I’d added a third idea; a cheese and onion pasty.  Cheese and onion pasties are popular in these parts and I thought it would be good to add a veggie option to the gang.

The idea is simple enough: choose some ingredients to make a filling for a little parcel that can be baked in the oven and then eaten hot or cold.

With my decision made, I spent time preparing each filling and began my mini pasty experiment.  I was excited to see which one would turn out best.  Deep down, I knew the cheese and onion would work, but what of the other two?  I’m happy to say that my productive afternoon ended with smiles and I’ve been feeling very satisfied since.  My favourite was definitely the chicken and Chorizo pasty, but see what you think.

Mini pasties- chicken & chorizo, pesto chicken, cheese & onion

500g puff pastry

1 egg (beaten)

For the chicken & Chorizo filling

2 potatoes (cubed)

125g Chorizo sausage (cubed)

1 cooked chicken breast (cubed)

1 onion (diced)

1 red pepper (diced)

handful of chopped fresh coriander

salt

For the pesto chicken filling

2 potatoes (cubed)

1 cooked chicken breast (cubed)

A dozen mushrooms (diced)

1 tblspoon pesto

3 tblspoons grated Grana Padano

1 tblspoon olive oil

salt

For the cheese & onion filling

2 potatoes (cubed)

1 onion (diced)

5 tblspoons grated Cheddar

2 tspoons Dijon mustard

To make the chicken and Chorizo filling, I boiled the cubed potatoes for ten minutes and then drained them and set them aside to cool.  In a frying pan, I heated a little oil and fried the onions, Chorizo and pepper until the onions had cooked through and the Chorizo had released a beautiful red oil.  I stirred in the potatoes and the chicken along with some salt before finally sprinkling in the coriander.  The first filling was done!

For the pesto chicken, it was even easier.  I boiled the potatoes and drained them.  Next I put the potatoes, chicken, pesto and cheese in a bowl and stirred thoroughly.  I fried the mushrooms and stirred them in.  A little salt to season and some pepper finished the job.

Finally, the cheese and onion filling was made by boiling the cubed potatoes and letting them cool before putting them into a bowl with the Dijon mustard and cheese.  I fried the onions and then added them to the bowl.  All that was left to do was mix it all together gently and season everything.

I rolled out the pastry until it was very thin and made use of a small saucer from an espresso cup to cut a circle.  A couple of tablespoons is all that is needed to fill the pasty and it’s important not to overfill it (tempting as it is).

Brushing the edge of half the pastry circle with egg wash helps to seal the pasty when you bring the edges together.  Just crimp the edges with a fork or fold and press them to stop the filling oozing out in the oven.  Place the pasties on a baking tray lined with baking paper and use a pastry brush to add the egg wash to each one.  This will give the pasties a lovely golden glaze.

Pop the little beauties in the oven for about twenty minutes at 180C or until they are golden.  You’ll know exactly when to take them out.

These make a great little snack and can be eaten cold.  If you make mini pasties as I did, you’ll be able to get about forty by making all three of the fillings.  Obviously, if you decide to make just one type of filling, you will definitely not need 500g of pastry!

I think I might make giant pasties next time and have them as part of a main meal.  I’m so happy with how these turned out.  Let me know if you decide to give them a go!

120g Chorizo sausage (cubed)

Colour me summer.

One thing that I’m keen to point out to people when talking about my love of food and cooking is that my passion for it far outweighs my skill.  Interestingly, most people assume that I have lots of skill in the kitchen and that I’m a very adept amateur chef.  If only.  After years of experimenting with different flavours and tipping countless plates of food into the bin, I’m simply more in tune with what will work and what will turn my stomach.  Now, I’d be doing myself a disservice if I was too disparaging about this acquired skill.  When asked about the difference between a cook and a chef, Michel Roux said that a chef was someone with an exceptional palate that had been developed over the course of a minimum of ten years.  Well I wouldn’t say that my judgement was exceptional, but I’m usually able to avoid disasters.  My failures in the kitchen tend to be lack-lustre dishes, the odd mismatched combination of flavours or some overcooking.  A far cry from the horrors produced as a student.

Cooking every day has given me an eye for good quality vegetables and an appreciation of what goes well together.  Once you’ve established a dish using certain ingredients, it’s often easy to transfer everything to another type of recipe.  For me, where there’s Chorizo, I know coriander and onions will not be far behind.  The following recipe came about by accident, but turned out to be a really cheerful meal that I’ll be making again in the future.  It was just a case of putting together a team of ingredients who would get on with one another.

Summer fritatta

3 eggs

5 baby new potatoes

2 ripe tomatoes (roughly chopped)

100g Chorizo (thinly sliced)

1 onion

1 red chilli (deseeded and sliced)

1 green chilli (deseeded and sliced)

handful coriander (roughly chopped)

grated Cheddar cheese

olive oil

salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes for twenty minutes, cut into thick slices and set aside.  Slice the onion thinly and fry in a drop or two of oil until beginning to brown and set aside too.  Season the eggs and whisk them vigorously for a couple of minutes until you can see plenty of air bubbles. Next, pour into a small heated frying pan (mine’s 23cm) with a little olive oil.  Start adding all of the ingredients, making sure that you spread them out evenly.  Push the potatoes and tomatoes down into the egg to allow room for everything else.  Finish the fritatta with lots of grated Cheddar on top and a little more seasoning.  Leave it to cook on the lowest heat until most of the egg mixture has coagulated.  When only the very top is still running, finish it under a very hot grill until just golden.

Fritatta is great for slicing and sharing.  It makes a really versatile brunch dish, or could be eaten for lunch with a salad.  I love the fact that it tastes marvellous whether it is served hot or cold.

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