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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As fresh as it gets.

Man cannot live on cake alone.  I’ve tried.  To keep things fresh and light for the summer, I’ve been mixing up the evening meals to include things that make use of the herbs in my garden.  Mint, lavender, parsley, sage, thyme, Greek oregano and lemon thyme are all bursting into life right now, so it would be silly not to take advantage.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a far cry from the chocolate craziness that I’ve thrown your way before.  It’s really delicious, a doddle to prepare and it goes well with so many things that you’ll easily be able to make it a part of at least one meal.  All you need are some fresh herbs and a few minutes to make this classic crowd pleaser!

Tabouleh

4 tblspoons fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped)

100g cous cous

half a cucumber (chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 ripe tomatoes (chopped)

juice of half a lemon

4 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

I used cous cous to make my tabouleh which is a deal-breaker for many people.  Bulgur wheat is used in a traditional tabouleh.  Cous cous was all that I had to hand on the day that I made this and I’ve no regrets.  I also added a little more olive oil than stated in my recipe, but it’s really up to you to season this beautiful salad how you like it.

I cooked the cous cous for a few minutes in boiling water until soft and set it aside to cool.  I then lined a bowl with mixed leaves.  In another bowl I added the cous cous and the rest of the ingredients.  I gave them a good mix and kept tasting as I seasoned everything.  A little more lemon juice here, a bit of oil there…it was fun getting a nice balance.

Once everything was nicely combined, I tipped the tabouleh carefully into the bowl lined with salad leaves.

You can serve the tabouleh immediately or cover it and leave it in the fridge for an hour or so like I did.  The flavours were wonderful.  This is a seriously uplifting dish and one that benefits from the use of ultra fresh ingredients.  I can’t wait to serve this with some grilled lamb and lots of pita.

For the love of garlic.

Garlic frying in butter.  It announces that something special is taking place in the kitchen.  It draws you in, makes your imagination create wonderful possibilities, secret hopes of what the dish might be.  It’s the very beginning of something savoury and full of depth and irresistable flavour.  Garlic does all of this, and that’s before you even taste it.

When my French father-in-law visits, his suitcase is filled with all manner of food delights and this includes the ubiquitous garlic bulbs.  They’re three times the size of the puny bulbs available in English supermarkets and their flavour is wonderfully rounded and smooth.  If you want quality British garlic, you’ll have to look for it somewhere other than your local, friendly, giant, faceless, monopolizing supermarket.

With several bulbs of garlic from southern France, I felt charged with the responsibility of making something worthy of their quality.  My first thought was of garlic bread.  However, first ideas are not always the best and garlic bread is hardly an earth-shattering revelation.  Consulting colleagues didn’t yield any new ideas and I was beginning to scratch my head when suddenly, I had an earth-shattering revelation: garlic bread!

You may laugh (and possibly cease reading this altogether), but my first thought was not as silly as I’d judged it to be.  What better way to showcase the wonderful flavour of this garlic than to combine it with fairly bland, but satisfying ingredients?  I’ve enjoyed garlic soup in the Czech Republic and some wonderful chicken dishes with heaps of garlic in Thailand, but honestly, I wanted something with origins closer to home.

What follows is a recipe so full of garlic, that casual admirers of garlic may wish to turn the volume down on this one.  My recipe is for those who love garlic, I mean really love it.  Can you have too much of a good thing?  Probably.

Killer garlic bread

half French tiger stick (or plain baguette)

1 bunch fresh parsely (chopped)

10 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

150g salted butter

1 tblspoon olive oil

salt

It’s a killer garlic bread for a number of reasons.  Reading the ingredient list gives you a clue to at least one of them.  You can use more or less butter according to your taste (and lifestyle choices).  Copious amounts of butter, however, will guarantee a rich flavour and a moist end product.

After chopping all of the garlic finely, I heat the butter in a milk pan and fry the pungent cloves very gently.  If you burn any of the garlic, it is ruined.  The bitter taste of burned garlic is a real spoiler for any dish, so do take care to add enough butter to let the garlic float a little and give the pan a shake to make sure nothing sticks.  I often tilt the pan so that the butter gathers and cooks the garlic evenly.  I usually add a drop of olive oil to prevent the butter burning too.  Don’t add too much oil or you’ll end up with greasy garlic bread which is not pleasant.

The reason that I use a lot of butter is not just so that the garlic can be cooked evenly.  I need to mix the garlic butter with lots of parsley and spread it onto the bread.  Predictably, the bread soaks up the liquid, so there needs to be plenty of topping to cover the surface of the bread and also to soak into it.  We really want the flavour to seep through instead of sitting on the top.  I use a wooden spatula to mix in the parsley and then I season the buttery paste with some sea salt before spooning it onto the bread.

Tiger bread is very tasty, so when I spotted a French tiger stick, I was excited about using it to make the garlic bread.  You can use a regular baguette for the same result.  I only needed half and I cut through the length of the bread and opened it out to spread the verdant garlic butter onto the soft surface.  The parsley is essential for countering the strength of the garlic.  It also brings a fantastic colour to everything.  I left the bread for a few minutes to let the butter soak in.

I then lined a baking tin with foil and put the bread into a hot oven at 180C for about ten minutes or until the bread was crisp and golden.  Spreading the butter and parsley to the very edges of the bread ensured that nothing burned.  I ate mine with some cream cheese on the side which was a cool companion to every bold bite of this bread.  It’s delicious on its own and would go down a treat at a barbecue!  Just make sure you warn your friends that this garlic bread is the real deal.

 

Rainbow bright.

The marinated pork is roasting as we speak.  Just got enough time to throw in a simple rainbow trout recipe from last week.  My skills with fish are limited, but I make an effort to buy fresh fish once a week to keep everyone in good health and prevent myself defaulting to pizza.  Last week I spotted some really fresh rainbow trout that stood out from the display of ocean delights.  The eyes were really bright and clear which is a good indication of freshness.  Don’t bother checking the gills as everyone tells you.  They can be cleaned and don’t really guarantee a fresh catch.  There’s no disguising a milky, lack-lustre eye.  I decided to buy a whole trout and use fresh herbs from the garden to flavour it.  We enjoyed it with salad and baby new potatoes.

Fresh as it comes.

Steamed rainbow trout with lemon & fresh herbs.

1 whole rainbow trout (cleaned with head removed)

2 lavender stems with buds

1 handful fresh scented thyme

1 handful fresh Greek oregano leaves

1 handful fresh parsley

3 garlic cloves (halved)

1 lemon (sliced)

butter

olive oil

sea salt

pepper

After cleaning the trout and making sure that the cavity was clear, I simply arranged slices of lemon and garlic inside.  I washed and drained all of the herbs because they were straight from the garden and I didn’t fancy enjoying the nuances of our mini ecosystem on my tongue.  With that done, I kept all of the herbs in tact and stuffed them firmly into the trout.  I was tempted to tie the fish to prevent the herbs falling out, but this was supposed to be a quick meal with no fuss so I put a knob of butter on top, seasoned the fish and drizzled some olive oil over it and wrapped it in foil.  I find it easier to lay the fish on the foil at the very start so that I can just bring up the edges to form a parcel without having to move the fish.

Into the oven (middle shelf) at 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  By sealing the fish within foil, the water and lemon juice evaporates, but can’t escape.  This effectively steams the fish giving it a very soft texture and mellow flavour.  The skin comes away easily once cooked and all that needs to be done is to remove the herbs and pour the juice over the fish before serving.  Almost any herbs will work and I’ve had good results with salmon fillets too.  Definitely one for summer.  I think a few of these in separate foil parcels could easily be served up with bowls of salad and potatoes for folk to dig into.  One trout can serve two which again, means less effort.