Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” – Miles Kington

The same could be said of the bell pepper. The entire family of peppers (bell peppers, chillies etc.) are technically fruits but you would never see them on a dessert platter – except possibly in some ‘ground-breaking’, edgy restaurant. I guess potentially I could be marketing this recipe as a smoothie bowl but let’s be realistic, it’s just soup.

I have a very mixed relationship with peppers. I’m not a huge fan of the texture but I do quite like the taste so turning them into soup seemed like a perfect solution to my problem. Obviously as I was also using tomatoes, red peppers were the obvious choice for a bright, vibrant soup but if you don’t like tomatoes, pepper soup is also very tasty and can be made in a wide range of colours. Peppers come in more than the standard four varieties (red, orange, yellow and green); you can also find them in white and both light and dark shades of purple. Purple isn’t a colour that appears in many dishes as there isn’t a wealth of naturally purple food out there so a bowl of bright purple soup is really exciting!

Peppers differ from their spicy counterparts as they exhibit a recessive trait – they do not produce capsaicin. This is the molecule responsible for the burning sensation when eating chilli. It is a strong irritant and is very hydrophobic so is not affected by water at all. This means rinsing your mouth with water will do nothing to alleviate the heat from chillies but milk (which is an emulsion of fat in water) can help relieve the pain. For the same reason, washing your hands with just water after chopping chillies will not remove the capsaicin so it is still dangerous to rub your eyes but using soap – something designed to bond to both water and fats – will help clean the capsaicin off your skin. Interestingly for the same reason, even bleach will not remove capsaicin but oil will so swilling your mouth out with oil, whilst gross, will remove the heat. In the same vein, capsaicin is soluble in alcohol so rinsing with vodka or another spirit would also help alleviate the pain but do not swallow it as this just moves the capsaicin to an area which you can’t clean as easily. Of course you can then proceed to wash your mouth out with water which will remove the remaining vodka.

The difference between red/yellow/orange peppers and green peppers is time. All peppers start out green and as they ripen they change colour. As a result, red peppers are sweeter than their green counterparts although you can get some varieties which stay green even when fully ripe. This means you can make soups of all shades.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup:

Serves 6

Time: 1 hour

Cost per portion: about 50p

Ingredients:

3 large red peppers

6 medium tomatoes

1 medium to large onion

2 cloves garlic

500ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For cheese tuiles, grate 200g cheddar or parmesan.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Halve the tomatoes, remove the seeds and stalks from the peppers and place on a baking tray.

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Drizzle with olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the oven for half an hour. Give them a mix halfway through to ensure nothing burns and everything is roasted evenly.

Once the peppers and tomatoes have been cooking for 20 minutes, roughly chop the onion and the garlic.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan and start to fry the onions and garlic.

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When the peppers and tomatoes have finished in the oven, add them to the pan with the onions.

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Add the stock and simmer for fifteen minutes.

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Using a stick or jug blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the cheese tuiles, decrease the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).

Arrange circles of cheese on baking parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake for 5 minutes until the tuiles are pale gold and lacey looking. Make sure they do not turn too dark as this will make them taste bitter!

Serve the soup hot with a drizzle of cream, a few tuiles and a little fresh coriander.

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This soup is ideal as it freezes very well and can be kept in the fridge for several days. It makes a perfect lunch when you’re in a hurry and tastes delicious.

If you really love your soup, I have posted recipes for both butternut squash and curried parsnip soup so you should check those out. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, why not try out a beef stir-fry or for a delicious dessert (which is simple to make vegan), treat yourself to an apple tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with my foolproof meringue recipe.

H

Apple Tart

Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Bramley, Gala – the list of different types of apples has thousands of varieties (which you will be glad to know I have neither time, patience nor space to write out here). Apples are one of the most widely eaten fruits and have been cultivated and eaten for millennia. They appear as symbols in many religions in both good and bad settings but are nonetheless still there. Also, apples just taste plain amazing – my favourite type is Pink Lady apples, what’s yours?

In religion we find apples appearing over and over again. In Judaism, we eat apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanna (the Jewish new year) but interestingly there is no actual command for this; in fact people used to eat whatever was the most readily available sweet fruit, which at times has included both figs and dates, dipped in honey. The apple appears in the Song of Songs and is also referenced in the Zohar (a mystical Jewish text from the 13th century). Within Christianity, the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden is often depicted as an apple although the bible never actually states this. This confusion dates back to Roman times when versions of the bible in Latin made a typo – an incredibly minute but critical mistake. The mistake came in Genesis 2:17 when referencing ‘the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ when the word mălum (evil) was confused with mālum (apple). This is also where the term “Adam’s apple” comes from for the lump in men’s throats was believed to represent Adam’s inability to swallow the fruit.

In ancient Greek mythology, one of Heracles’ tasks was to collect the golden apples of immortality from the garden of the Hesperides. This tree was a wedding gift from Gaia to Hera when she accepted Zeus’ hand in marriage and was protected by a hundred headed dragon which never slept. The apple returns again in one of the most famous stories of ancient Greece: the Trojan War. The legend state that Eris – the goddess of strife and discord – tossed a golden apple into a wedding feast which the gods were attending with the inscription “for the fairest one”. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite all claimed it and eventually Zeus proclaimed the decision would fall to Paris. Paris chose Aphrodite as she had promised him the most beautiful woman in the word – Helen of Troy (at that time, Helen of Sparta) – resulting the one of the largest battles in Greek mythology and leading to the creation of Rome!

As you may have guessed, I am a fan of Greek mythology but these stories show how apples have permeated history.

Apple crumble is one of my favourite dishes at home as it’s one of those comfort foods that is just never as good when someone other than your mum makes it. I have never managed to make it as well as her but what I can have a pretty good go at is an apple tart. This recipe is more of a flan/tart than a pie as there is no pastry lid but you are welcome to add one if you like – just be warned, you may have to play around with the cooking time to make sure all the pastry is cooked through (but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the filling burning). These apple tarts look stunning and are sure to wow any guests you serve them too! No only that but they are vegan (just use the non-egg/non-dairy alternatives given – you can’t even tell the difference).

Enjoy the recipe and happy baking!

 

 

Apple Tart

 

For the pastry:

250g plain flour

125g cold margarine or butter. The margarine should be the block version, not the spreadable one from a tub.

2 tbsp sugar

1 pinch salt

Two tablespoons of water (or one egg)

 

For the apple compote:

4 apples – I like to use Granny Smiths as they are very tart and help offset the sweetness of the rest of the recipe

20g brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp water

1 tbsp lemon juice

 

To finish:

3 large apples – I like Pink Ladys as they have a wonderful taste but are also crisp and easy to cut

10-20g margarine or butter

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp apricot jam or 2 tbsp syrup made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water

 

To make the pastry cube the fat and rub into the flour until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

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Stir in the sugar and the salt.

Make a well in the centre, add the water or egg and mix with the flat of a blunt knife until the mix starts coming together (I use just a normal table knife).

Pour out onto a surface and knead until the pastry forms a single ball. If it seems too dry, add a little bit of water as its better to knead the pastry a little more than necessary than have it fall apart when cooking.

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Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to cool.

 

For the compote, peel, core and chop the apples.

Place them in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes until the apple is soft.

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Don’t forget to peel one of the apples like I did here!

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Using either a potato masher or a blender/stick blender, puree the compote (it’s ok if it is a little bit lumpy).

Set this aside to cool.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6.

Once the compote has cooled, roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a £1 coin and line a nine inch tart case or alternatively, the base of nine inch cake tin and about one inch up the side.

Spread the compote over the base of the pastry being careful not to damage the pastry as it is still uncooked.

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Peel two of the remaining apples.

Use an apple corer to remove the cores and cut the apples in half from top to bottom.

Place the apples on the side and use a sharp knife to cut them 1mm slices.

Arrange the slices in concentric circles overlapping each inner circle with the one it lies within. In the central portion of each layer, add a couple of end piece of apple to fill in the height difference.

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Fill the central area with more apple to fill in the dip!

The final tart should rise slightly in the centre.

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Cut up the margarine or butter and place little pieces of it all over the tart.

Sprinkle over the sugar.

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Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the apple starts browning round the edges.

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Attempt number one. The apples weren’t thin enough so there are noticeable gaps.

 

Melt the apricot jam or if using syrup, add a quarter cup of sugar and two tablespoons water to a pan and bring to a boil as the sugar dissolves. Boil for two minutes and then remove from the heat.

Remove the tart from the oven and while it is still hot, use a pastry brush to gently brush the hot syrup or jam over the apples to give them a beautiful shiny finish.

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Attempt number two.

Serve the tart warm or cold with ice cream/cream/custard – whichever you prefer!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Check out last week’s recipe for beef stir fry or if you want another sweet treat, have a look at my recipe for choux buns.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for Tomato and Pepper soup!

H

One Pot Pasta

There is a big trend at the moment for one pot meals. Cooking your whole meal in a single pan is a fantastic way to reduce washing up and if you are cooking around other people, it prevents competition for cookware!

Like most cooking, one pot pasta is all about the ratios. You have to learn to adapt recipes to the type of pasta you use and the different ingredients as some will absorb more water than others. For example, mushrooms and fresh tomato will give out liquid whereas tomato paste will thicken everything up and therefore requires more stock to make it work.

Most one pot pastas have five base parts: pasta, liquid, meat, veg and cheese.

First of all, cook up the vegetables and the meat making sure the meat is seared properly before you add the liquid. Next add the pasta and liquid of choice and cook until the pasta is done. Finally, add the cheese which should help thicken up the sauce nicely so it is smooth and creamy.

Standard ingredients include:

Liquid: Chicken/beef/mushroom/vegetable stock, milk or a mixture of cream & stock

Meat: Chicken, meatballs, beef mince, pork mince or choritzo

Veg: Onions, garlic, tomato, mushrooms, sweetcorn or spinach

Cheese: Parmesan, Cheddar or Goat’s cheese

 

Obviously the list is only restricted by your imagination so you can add whatever you want but one pot pasta is about simplicity (and also normally using up leftover veg that you have lying around).

Below are the recipes for several one pot pastas that I have made recently all of which took around 20 minutes altogether!

 

One Pot Mushroom Pasta

1 cup pasta

1   cup milk

1 mushroom stock cube

½ onion

300g mushrooms

2 cloves garlic (minced)

Salt & pepper

Oil

Cornflour to thicken if needed

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Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with a little oil.

Chop the mushrooms – I generally cut them into quarters – and add them, along with the garlic, to the pan once the onions are translucent.

Fry the mushrooms with the onions for another two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Cook for about 10 minutes stirring regularly to prevent the pasta clumping.

If the sauce gets too thick, add a quarter of a cup of water and stir it through.

If the pasta is cooked and the sauce is still too thin, mix a tablespoon of cornflour with a tablespoon of water and add it to the pasta stirring it through. Cook for another 30 seconds to thicken the sauce and then serve.

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One Pot Arrabiata Pasta

1 cup pasta

1 ½ cup vegetable stock

¼ cup tomato paste (or replace half a cup of the stock with passata)

½ onion

1 chilli

2 cloves garlic – minced

Oil

Salt and Pepper

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I had some leftover mushrooms which I also threw in to the pasta along with some soya protein!

 

 

Dice up the onion and sauté with a little oil.

Finely chop the chilli and add it, along with the garlic, to the pan with the onion.

Continue to saute the vegetables for two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients – adding salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for around 15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.

If the sauce isn’t the correct consistency, add either cornflour or water to adjust to a thick sauce which should coat the pasta

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One Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta

1 cup pasta

1 cup milk

½ onion

1 chicken breast

2 garlic cloves – minced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

¼ cup grated parmesan

Oil

Salt and pepper

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Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with some oil.

Chop the chicken into smallish chunks and add to the onion once it is translucent – also add the garlic at this point.

Sear the chicken until the outside is cooked before adding the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan

Cook for 10 minutes or so until the pasta is cooked.

Add the cheese and stir it through – this will help thicken up the sauce

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Hopefully these examples have given you some ideas for some different and exciting dinners. For another delicious easy meal, check out my recipe for Curried Parsnip Soup or if you fancy something a little sweeter, how about making some brandy snaps?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for a chocolate and caramel cake – perfect for feeding a crowd!

 

H