Tag Archives: Pasta

A Summer Soup for Winter, Mostly From a Cupboard

Winter Vegetable Soupe au Pistou

A Staples Stand-By

The Big Guy has been worrying about our plants. More specifically, he has been fretting over a rather leggy basil plant, that really was on its last legs. After the third day of him agonising, I decided that we should use up the whole plant. Whilst mulling over winter uses of basil, I kept coming back to the thought of soupe au pistou; the Provençal summer soup.

Try as I might, I kept returning to the pistou, which is like pesto, but without the pine nuts. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything else, so I gave in. Instead of courgettes and peas, it had to be about what I had knocking about. Between the fridge and the garden, I knew that I could come up with the goods.

Despite the name, the original recipe is more like a summer vegetable stew;  thick with beans, squash, tomatoes and alliums, as well as vermicelli. I could easily substitute most of these for suitable winter vegetables, so I went on a domestic forage.  As well as the basil, I grew thyme, garlic, carrots and cavalo nero (amongst other things), so these were definitely going in. The fridge yielded half a butternut squash, some aging tomatoes and a leek. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have substituted these for half a tin of chopped tomatoes. That’s the brilliant thing about store cupboard soups – you use what you have.

I was also excited to experiment with cooking dried beans in my new pressure cooker. I’m dying to test the assertion that you can cook dried beans without a pre-soak, which will be amazing for someone who can forget to do the little things, like me. However, when I went to look, the cupboard was bare of dried beans, apart from some kidney beans I have, which wouldn’t have tasted right in this soup. I am still reluctant to forego the pre-soak for these beans, due to the toxins they contain. With a sigh, I added dried beans to my shopping list and went for tinned instead. I generally prefer dried beans for taste and texture, but I always have a tin or two on stand-by, because I am also a realist about my lack of foresight. Since this was a root-around, use-up, make-d0 type of soup, I wasn’t going to go shopping for beans, so I made use of what I had.

The classic soupe au pistou always contains starch. I used vermicelli, because I had some. Other pasta shapes (especially the small ones, such as ditolini, risoni, or stellini) are fine – or you could break up spaghetti into small bits and use those. You could add rice to this soup, in case you don’t have any pasta, or you can’t eat wheat. If you use rice you’ll need to add it much earlier than I suggest adding the pasta, or use pre-cooked rice.

This soup may be a winter version of a summer classic, but the intense smell as you mash the pistou is like a shot of glorious summer in a winter kitchen.

Since this is a winter warmer, and definitely comforting, I’m entering it into this month’s Cheese Please, over at Fromage Homage. There are some really great recipes there this month, so do come over and have a look.

Cheese Please blog badge

Recipe: Soupe au Pistou du Placard


For the Pistou:

1 fat garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

30 g basil leaves

About 60 ml extra virgin olive oil

About 40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated (or mature vegetarian cheddar, since parmesan is not vegetarian)

1 tomato, peeled and de-seeded (optional)

For the soup:

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme

1.5 l vegetable stock

400 g butternut squash, or pumpkin, diced

100 g cavalo nero

400 g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, diced; or half a tin of chopped tomatoes

100 g vermicelli noodles, rice or any other small pasta shape


Make the pistou. I like to use a pestle and mortar, but you can also use a small food processor. If you are using the food processor, either mince the garlic first with a chef’s knife and the salt, or grate it on a microplaner before adding it to the processor.

Whichever method you are using to make the pistou, add and blend the ingredients in this order: garlic and salt, basil, some of the oil and cheese. Be sparing with the both the oil and the cheese. You must taste as you add these, because all basil will vary. You want  fairly thick pesto, but it still needs to be flavoursome. Once the pistou is to your liking, stop adding things.

Make a concasse of the tomato and stir it through the pistou. Traditionally soupe au pistou has tomato flesh gently crushed into the pistou with a pestle and mortar, which you can also do if you prefer. If you are using tinned tomatoes, omit the tomato from the pistou, or you risk diluting it too much.

Prepare all of the vegetables for the soup. I decided to cook the cavalo nero stalks separate to the leafy greens. So, I stripped the greens from the stalks, and sliced both. Slice the stalks into 1cm chunks, like the rest of the vegetables. Slice the greens thinly, and keep them separate.

Sweat  the leek, carrot and the bay leaf in the olive oil in a deep pan, until the leek turns a vibrant green. Add the garlic and thyme and sweat off for another minute or so.

Add the stock, and simmer for a few minutes, or none at all, if you prefer your carrots crunchy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the pumpkin and cook until you can just pierce it with the point of your knife. The time required will depend on the size of your dice. It took me about 5 minutes, based on 1cm dice.

Chuck in the beans, chopped tomatoes, and cavalo nero stalks, and allow them to simmer for five minutes, before adding the vermicelli and the greens.

Allow the soupe to cook until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning, and serve in deep bowls, topped with a large dollop of the pistou.



Filed under Farmed

A Test of My Nettle!

Edible hedgerow

An Edible Hedgerow

I love nettles – in tea, as plant food, in pesto.My favourite thing to do is to eat them as a vegetable,briefly wilted with chopped shallot that has been softened in butter. One of my favourite foods, made even better that they are in plentiful supply.

There are loads of good things about nettles: they are high in protein, and fibre, and rich in iron and vitamins A and K; they are a brilliant wildlife habitat; you are highly unlikely to get into trouble for picking them (although people might think that you are a little bit mad); and you get a double hit on them (in the wild), as you can pick them in the spring, and again in autumn. They are also really easy to identify.

As well as following some basic foraging rules, you will also need long sleeves and rubber gloves if you don’t want to get stung!

Flowering nettle

Too Late for this Nettle

If you are going for the wild variety, we are drawing towards the end of the first flush for this year. When the flower heads appear, almost like catkins (see above), the nettles will develop calcium carbonate crystals in the leaves, which are unpleasant to eat. However, if you strim back nettles, then they will grow fresh and you can eat them again. If you look carefully, you should still find some that are yet to flower, so just pick those.

Picking the nettle tips

Taking the Tips!

Because of the aforementioned abundance of wildlife, and the fact that even the tallest dog can’t reach, only pick the tips and the first two leaf bracts after them. These leaves won’t be tough, as some of the older leaves might.

I was originally going to enter this recipe into  Simple and in Season, for May, but the recipe needed a bit more testing. The first version I did was a bit mushy, so I didn’t make it. I am entering it for this month instead. Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food runs this challenge, and this month it is being hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food.

I love to entertain, and I also love to forage. I don’t often combine the two (unless it is booze) because I often think that people might not like the idea. However, I was having a vegan friend over for dinner, so many of my fall-back staples were off the menu. I had some freshly picked nettles, and I saw that Carl Legge had tweeted a link to his nettle gnocchi recipe. I was inspired, but couldn’t use the recipe, because he uses an egg as a binder. Instead, I have played with this a bit. I have to admit that I did not add enough flour to the first recipe, which was why it didn’t hold its shape. I apologise to my friends who had this as a starter that day, but I have improved on it now, to give the recipe below.

Jo's Version of Mr Potato Head

Soggy Gnocchi Disappointment: an Impressionist View

To make up for the gnocchi, Jo entertained us all with her food faces. This was a stray potato, with her partner as a size comparison.

Nettles go well with tomato sauces, but I decided that I was going to use a really simple pasta sauce (not at all traditional for gnocchi, but it went really well) of oil, chilli flakes and garlic.

This recipe is a good introduction to foraging, if you have always fancied giving it a go, but not dared so far. Nettles are easily accessible, and much tastier than you might think.

Nettle Gnocchi and Salad

Nourishing Nettles

Recipe: Vegan Nettle Gnocchi


200 g nettle tops, washed well in cold water

500 g floury potatoes. You want a variety that makes good mash

300 g plain flour, plus more for dusting

1 tbsp hemp oil (optional)



You can also add spices to the dough, if you like, nutmeg is particularly good.

For the pasta sauce:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

Pinch of dried pepper flakes


Firstly, remove the nettle stalks and discard.

Put the potatoes, with their skins on, in plenty of cold water and boil until they are just done and you can pierce to the middle. This should help stop them getting waterlogged, but only if they don’t overcook.Allow to cool slightly, then peel and mash them, preferably in a potato ricer or food mill, if you have one.

Add the nettles to boiling water and cook off briefly, the exact time will depend on the age of your nettles. Drain them, but don’t discard the cooking liquid. This is nettle tea, which is refreshing and all sorts of  good for you. You can drink it hot or cold, and it keeps well in the fridge.

Nettles retain more water than spinach, so use the back of a spoon and press them quite hard to get the liquid out of the leaves. Chop them roughly and mix well with the mashed potato, hemp oil, some salt and pepper, and any spices you are using.

An idea of how the  dough should look

The Dough Should Hold its Form Really Well

The exact amount of flour that you need will depend on the nettle and potato mix on the day. Initially, I used way too little, and the gnocchi were soggy. The best way around this is to tip the potato and nettle mix onto a floured surface, then add the flour, a little at a time and mix in well. You want to form a quite stiff dough, then knead it well. If you are unsure if there is enough flour, drop a test piece into some boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. If it retains its shape, you have enough.

Bite sized gnocchi pieces

Bite Sized

Cut the dough into four. Flour your surface , and roll each piece of dough into a sausage 2-3 cm  in diameter. Cut these into 2-3 cm pieces. It is traditional to press a fork into each small piece to score it. The reason often given for this is so that a sauce can sit in the grooves. This is a great tip for a thicker sauce, like a tomato sauce or a ragù, but not really necessary for the sauce I used. I did it anyway, for aesthetics.

Marking grooves in the gnocchi to hold a sauce

Get Into the Groove

Get a fairly large pan of salted water to a rapid boil, and then drop the gnocchi in. They will take literally minutes to cook, so don’t be tempted to go and check e-mail or something similar.

The Finished Nettle Gnocchi

The Finished Product

For the sauce, gently heat the oil and garlic until the garlic starts to brown. Then add the chilli flakes. This sauce will take about the same time as the gnocchi, which will be cooked when they float. Drain, toss in the sauce, and serve immediately.


Filed under Found

Perusing the Prahran Market, Melbourne

Prahran Market Stalls


I do love a good food market. On our recent trip to Australia, we found ourselves in the Prahran market in Melbourne. It is the oldest market in Australia, although, of course, other markets are available.

The stalls heave with fruits and vegetables. There are butchers and fishmongers, organic stalls and delis, cafés and street food. There are specialist stalls for wine, coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, pasta, asian products, you name it.

If it weren’t for the Big Guy’s relatively low capacity for putting up with my geekery (well, we did manage to stay here a good couple of hours, so perhaps that is a little harsh…), I could stay in a place like this all day, wandering around, sampling the produce, chatting to people, and planning meals from all the things I found.

Instead, we purchased some items for a good lunch, and some more of the lovely summer fruits that were in season. These included some small pears, the name of which I forgot to note down, but they were delicious. Really sweet, and not at all grainy, like larger pears can sometimes be.

Pacific Oysters from Prahran Markets

A Well-Earned Breakfast

We also picked up a dozen Native Oysters. I first tried oysters about ten years ago, when I shared a dozen with a boy I was trying to impress (this was about a year before I met the Big Guy). My love of oysters has lasted far longer than that particular infatuation!

I enjoy oysters from all over the globe, especially when I happen to find some on a beach forage. But Native Oysters are really the best, as they are creamier and meatier than their North Sea counterpart. I prefer them raw as opposed to grilled with a topping, like in Oysters Rockerfeller, or Kilpatrick. I just feel that this is gilding the lily, and something this good does not really need embellishment further than a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of champagne, if you want to push the boat out!

I have already mentioned the importance of checking out your seafood before you buy it. Our oceans are a precious resource, and currently, they are being exploited horribly, with no real eye to the future of fish stocks, or the fishing industry itself. Damaging catch methods are putting species at risk, as well as destroying the habitat where they live and breed, and catching fish and sea mammals that were not the intended catch, meaning that they are thrown back, often dead or dying. It is so important to make sure that you are not adding to the problem and supporting these practices by eating unsustainably harvested fish.

Luckily, like a lot of shellfish (but not all), the oysters are sustainably managed and harvested.  As are the Blue Mussels that we also picked up, along with the rest of the ingredients for this tasty little lunch:

Mussels with Pasta

Market Dinner

Recipe: Mussels Pasta


1 kg mussels

Glass of white wine

1 garlic clove, minced with a little salt

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

A little oil for frying

Juice and zest of one lemon

Bunch chervil, finely chopped

Bunch tarragon, leaves removed from stalks and finely chopped

Bunch parsley, finely chopped

2 serves linguine, fresh from the Pasta Shop, if you are in Melbourne


Prepare the mussels. Remove the “beard”, which is the green fibrous stuff at the pointy end, it will come away if you tug it. Of course, with any shellfish, you need to be sure that you are getting them alive. If any of the shells are cracked, then discard them. I hate waste, but not even I will mess with this one, because dead mussels decay quickly, and you risk a nasty case of food poisoning. If any of the shells are open, give them a sharp tap on the counter. If they do not close,  then discard them. Give them all a good rinse, to eliminate any grit, but don’t leave them soaking in fresh water, because they may die.

Prepare the herbs, lemon, chilli and garlic. If you have dried pasta, you will need to get this going now, and cook according to packet instructions. Get it to the point where it has five minutes left to cook before you move onto the mussels.

We got fresh pasta from the Pasta Shop in the market, if you are using fresh pasta, just get the pot of salted water on a rolling boil. It is fine to cheat, and boil the water in a kettle beforehand.

Heat a little oil in a large pan, and fry the garlic and chilli in it for a couple of minutes, until the scent fills the air. Add the mussels, wine lemon juice, herbs and zest to the pan. Cover and allow to cook.

If you are using fresh pasta, then add it to the boiling water now.

When the pasta (either variety) is finished, drain, but keep some of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the mussels, which should mostly all be open by now. Give it a good stir around for a minute or two on the hob. If the mixture is dry, add some of the pasta water, although I would try to avoid this if possible. The liquor in the pan is aniseedy and soupy from the herbs, and you risk diluting its delicate flavour.

Have a quick check for any mussels that have not opened. There is  some debate as to whether these are safe to eat, but I really think that the risk is not worth it. I recommend that you discard any unopened mussels.

Serve in deep bowls, making sure that you get a good ladleful of the herby juice in each bowl.



Filed under Feast, Fed

Bill’s Tomato Pasta and So Much More

Bill Grangers Tomato Pasta, Tomato Dressing & a Green Salad

Back to Work Dinner

The thing about coming half way around the world is that the seasons are back to front. We are in full summer right now, with the lovely fruit and vegetables that go with it.

I made this recipe for a friend who had kindly put us up for our wonderful week in Sydney. It is one of her favourites, and so I decided to make it for her to help her ease back to work after Christmas. She likes the dish, because the ingredients are very basic, and simple, but as long as they are chosen (or grown) well, they really are more than the sum of their parts.

The tomatoes take a little preparation. Being the lazy type, I often don’t bother to do this. But, as they are the star in this dish,  it really is worth the effort.

It is a Bill Granger recipe, from his book Sydney Food, published by Murdoch Books. I have reproduced it here, simply because, in my usual no-waste style, there is so much that you can do with what most people would discard from this recipe, which I have given at the end of the pasta recipe.

This is a great summer dish, whether your summer comes in December or in June.

Recipe: Bill’s Tomato Pasta


1 kg vine tomatoes – or really ripe ones from your garden

1 tbsp sea salt

120 ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves

1 lemon – juice and zest

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

400 g spaghetti, 100 g per person

1 bunch basil, leaves removed from stalks

Shaved Parmesan to serve


Firstly, wash the tomato and the vine. Do not discard the vine, as it imparts a lot of flavour, and you know I hate to waste anything!

Then plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds, and refresh in iced water or under a running tap. I prefer the iced water, because you can use it to water plants with, once the ice has melted, and the water is at room temperature. The skin should be splitting from the tomato, and should be quite easy to peel at this stage. If it isn’t plunge it back into the boiling water for a few seconds, and refresh again. As you will not be able to do all of the tomatoes at once, I keep a pan of water boiling on the stove for this recipe. Again, you can use the water afterwards for tea (so you haven’t wasted the energy it took to boil it either!), or put it in your water butt or pot plants.

The only part of the tomato that I haven’t found a use for is the skin,which is normally indigestible, so on its own I don’t really know what to do with it. The skins go in my wormery, so I get some use from them eventually. If anyone has any suggestions, please do leave them in the comments.

Once you have peeled your tomatoes, cut them in half, and remove the seeds and the watery pulp. Please don’t throw this away, as you will be throwing away a lot of useful flavour. Instead, collect it in a bowl, and we’ll come back to it later.

Roughly chop the flesh of the tomato. Then place it in a sieve, and sprinkle with the sea salt. Leave it over a bow for at least half an hour, to draw out more moisture. This will make your dish as flavourful as possible. Don’t discard the liquid run-off either, as this will be used up later, I promise.

Meanwhile, crush and finely chop the garlic. Mix this with the lemon zest and juice, vinegar, chopped chilli, pepper and olive oil. Put the tomatoes in this mixture once they have had a little while to steep in the salt. Mix this well, and then leave aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to meld.

Boil the spaghetti in plenty of salted water. Make sure it is still a little al dente. Drain, and then add it to the tomato mixture. Mix it up well, and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Tear the basil leaves and add them to the pasta.

Serve the pasta with parmesan shavings, best kept large and made with a vegetable peeler. I also served mine with a simple green salad, dressed with a dressing made from the tomato consommé, from the bits that we kept aside earlier.

Mel’s Multitude of Methods with Tomato “Waste”.

As promised, now we get to the bits that you kept aside earlier.

You should have the vine or truss that the tomatoes came on, the juice and seeds from the tomatoes, and the liquid run off from the salted tomato flesh. Good. Firstly, break up the tomato vine into bits a couple of cm long. Then, mix all three tomato “waste” products, and pass them through a sieve. The vine will give this an intense tomato flavour. You can either allow this to drip through on its own for a clear liquid, or you can push this pulpy mixture through with the back of a spoon, whereby the liquid will be red. Congratulations, you have now made  tomato consommé!

Tomato Consommé

Treasure, not trash!

At this stage, fish the vines back out of the sieve, and compost them. Tip the seeds out, and dry them on some kitchen paper. When they are dry, pick off any remaining pulp (which will go mouldy) and then put them in an envelope (write tomato seeds on the envelope, so you know what they are). Next spring, put them in soil, and water it regularly, and you will likely get new tomatoes! If you use organic tomatoes, this is almost certain. Some supermarket tomatoes may not germinate, because they are F1 or hybrids, but you will have lost nothing by giving it a go. Especially if you have reused an old envelope, and written on it in pencil!

The consommé can be used for a million things. It will be intensely flavoured, and slightly acid, like the tomatoes from which it came. I made a dressing for the green salad I served with the pasta dish. I mixed 2 tbsp tomato consommé with salt, pepper, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, and then enough extra virgin olive oil to make a nice emulsion.

If you have enough, chilled consommé makes a delicious soup for a starter, just garnish it with some basil before serving.

The consommé freezes well, and can be added to soups, stews, and other tomato pasta sauces (for which you do not need to freeze it, but it will keep longer). We froze ours in an ice cube tray, and when they are frozen, we will put them into a plastic bag to save space.

Consomme to Freeze, and a Salad Dressing

Many Methods with Consommé

Tomato consommé can be added to cocktails , but it is probably too light for a bloody mary. If you make your own ketchup, add with the sugar to intensify the tomato taste. In fact, pretty much any sauce that has tomatoes in will benefit from its addition.

If you want to be really cheffy, freeze it in a block. Once frozen, scrape it with a fork. The resulting crystals can be used as “tomato snow” on very delicate dishes. This is so easy, but you pay a fortune for it in a restaurant. People will also think you are an aspiring Heston, without you having to go anywhere near liquid nitrogen!

The possibilities to use this flavourful liquid are endless. How will you use yours?



Filed under Feast

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone with Pumpkin Gnocchi

Despite the changeable weather, it is most definitely autumn. There are no more leaves on the trees, and the clocks will go back this weekend. To me, this means using up beans. We have been eating our borlotti beans for a little while, and I had a few other veg that I had in the ground or in the fridge.

Soup is always a great way to use up veg, and minestrone soup has beans as  the key ingredient for this hearty vegetable soup. As long as you have good base flavours from onion, carrot and celery, there are a million other veggies that you can add.

I used an onion and a half (the half was leftover from something else, and it needed using up), 3 carrots, 2 sticks of celery and a leek, which I chopped finely and sweated off with a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary. I added a  couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and cooked them off a little before adding the stock.

I am a bit of stock obsessive, and always have portions of roughly 500 ml of various stocks in the freezer. At the moment, I have pheasant, and beef. I usually always have vegetable and chicken stock too, but not today. So, I used 500 ml of beef stock and added water to cover the veg.

As this came up to the boil, I shelled the beans – this time a mixture of borlotti and the last of the french beans, whose pods are getting leathery, but the beans inside are large enough to eat on their own. I chucked them in with a few chopped pomodori tomatoes (you can also use tinned). I left the soup to simmer until all the beans were cooked through. You can also use dried (and soaked), or tinned beans if you haven’t any from the garden.

About half way through cooking,  I had a taste, and added a little tomato puree, and seasoning.

I also had half a fennel to use up, which I chopped finely. I love fennel, but wanted to retain some crunch and the fennel flavour as separate from the overall soup, so I didn’t add it until about 5  minutes before the soup was cooked.

I would have added a bit of shredded cabbage, kale or cavolo nero at this point, but we managed to lose the sweetheart cabbage we had bought at the market, so we had to do without that tonight.

Another traditional ingredient in minestrone is pasta. I had some fresh tagliatelle, because the Big Guy often buys it on impulse. I also wanted to try something a little different, so I divided the soup at this point, and chucked in some chopped tagliatelle into one pot, cooked it for a couple of minutes and ate the first night. It is also possible to use smaller pasta shapes, like acini, or ditalini. However, I was using what I had. I think smaller pasta is better in soups, so if I only had dried, I would have cooked it and chopped it before adding at the last minute.You can use rice if that is what you have too – either cook it in the soup or chuck in some cooked rice about 5 mins before serving.

I was recently inspired by a recipe from Niamh Shields, of Eat Like  A Girl, fame to try Pumpkin Gnocchi. I have been following her blog for a few years now, and this really seems to be her year, with new columns, a book, and a truck-load of awards. I have to say I am really pleased for her, I have tried a lot of her recipes and they always turn out well, and she is a real enthusiast on the subject of all things food.

Anyway, back to the gnocchi. As I have pumpkins, and pasta is added to minestrone, I thought that I would combine the two, so I made up a batch of the gnocchi, using Niamh’s recipe. I brought the soup back up to a simmer, and then cooked the gnocchi in the soup. I served it with a good helping of chopped parsley.

I haven’t  given a formal recipe for this, as with most soups, the amount I make largely depends on the ingredients that I have to hand.  As this is an Italian recipe, I am sure that there are many different versions, and this will not be what any Italian mothers would have added, but that is the beauty of such a  versatile soup, where pretty much anything goes.


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