Pea Soup

Pea soup is fantastic. Its fresh taste and bright colour make for an amazingly summery dish which is light and silky to eat. The additional effort required to strain the soup is most definitely worth it as it results in a smooth, velvety mouth feel; garnishing with a little herb oil (mint, thyme or garlic work best) gives a delicious, restaurant standard dish for very little extra effort.

Peas have been cultivated for almost 7000 years with records of them reaching back to the 5th millennium BCE in Egypt where they grew in the river delta of the Nile. Over the next few thousands of years, peas slowly migrated all over Asia. By the Middle Ages, the pea had made its way to Europe and nowadays they are everywhere.

The legume family, of which peas are a part, has formed a huge part of the human diet for millennia. From soya and broad beans to liquorice and peanuts, legumes permeate our lives and not just in their edible forms. Pernambuco, more commonly known as brazilwood outside of the classical music world, belongs to the same family as the common pea but is one of the most valuable woods on the planet with top end violin bows (which weigh less than 100g) costing thousands if not tens of thousands of pounds. Pernambuco was so in demand that there are currently severe restrictions on the cutting down and exportation of the wood to let the population replenish after years of over-harvesting.

Retuning from that tangent, there are several different species in the fabaceae family which are eaten; one of the most interesting to me is the butterfly pea. This strain is more known for its flowers than the peas it produces as the flowers are a vibrant shade of blue. They are used in teas along with other foods but the most fascinating thing is that the blue dye contained in them is an indicator. When in the presence of an acid (such as lemon juice) the dye turns from a deep blue to a bright pink. As a result of this, the butterfly pea flower has become incredibly popular in molecular gastronomy and in gimmicky drinks such as blue gin which turns a lurid shade of pink when the tonic is added.

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Butterfly pea flower tea with with lemon (left) and without lemon (right).

The soup recipe below gives a way for the flavour of the pea to shine through. It is very easy to overpower it with stock (a mistake you will make only once) but it is simple to prepare and will wow you and any guests you serve it to. Like any vegetable soup I make, I love to serve it with something bready for dipping. This time, I tried making green onion flatbreads which were delicious but it would probably have been easier to buy some nice sourdough from the local market. I also like to garnish my soups with a little flavoured oil and this time, I infused a little bit of olive oil with garlic and thyme by warming it gently and then letting the oil cool before straining out the solids. The thyme really does lift the soup to the next level!

I hope you like the recipe!

 

 

 

Pea Soup

Serves 4 or 5

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around 25p

 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion

2 large garlic cloves

1 litre weak vegetable stock (make it up to half strength as you don’t want to overpower the taste of the peas)

500g peas (fresh or frozen)

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme (optional)

Salt and pepper

 

Thinly slice the onion and place into a large pan with the oil.

Add the garlic and sauté for five to eight minutes until the onion goes soft.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.

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Once the stock is boiling, pour in the peas and cook for two/three minutes – check the peas to see if they are cooked through.

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When the peas are cooked, liquidise in a jug blender or using an immersion (stick) blender.

Strain through a fine metal sieve a cup at a time. Use a spoon to push the blended soup through the sieve and you will be left with a thick mush comprised of the pea skins which can be discarded.

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Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot with bread for dipping.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like soup, you should check out my recipes for butternut squash, curried parsnip and red pepper and tomato soups or if you would rather have something sweet, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a delicious apple crumble.

H

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Lasagne is a comfort food. Layers of steaming hot pasta and filling with a crispy cheese topping; what is there not to love? It’s so versatile too as you can put whatever you like inside. My two favourite fillings are the one given below and also bolognaise (as is given in my recipe for Beef Lasagne).

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With the first recorded recipe dating back to the 14th century, lasagne is one of the oldest foods I have researched for this blog. The original recipes used fermented dough, not pasta, and the dough was rolled out and boiled before being layered with the filling. Traditional lasagne de carnivale from Naples is stuffed with sausage, meatballs, boiled egg and Neapolitan ragu. Outside Italy, most people use a thicker ragu akin to bolognaise sauce inside and béchamel sauce on top. You may notice that I don’t put béchamel sauce on my lasagne but that is just because I don’t like it. You are perfectly welcome to swap the top layer of filling for béchamel sauce if you like and then continue with the recipe.

Spinach and ricotta is a classic pasta filling. It’s used in cannelloni, tortellini and ravioli as well as several other filled shapes. It’s incredibly easy to make at home and it is simple to tweak the recipe to your requirements – be that stronger cheese, more spinach or you just want a little extra garlic.

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The recipe is particularly good for feeding a crowd as you can get six solid servings out of it!

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 6

Cost per portion: around £1.20

 

Ingredients:

750g ricotta cheese

400g frozen spinach

1 clove garlic (minced)

2 eggs

150g grated cheddar cheese (or 100g parmesan)

Salt and pepper to taste

60ml water

1 packet fresh lasagne sheets

150g mozzarella (grated)

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C)

Place the spinach in the microwave with a little water and heat on the maximum poser to defrost. Make sure to stir it every few minutes.

While the spinach is defrosting put the ricotta, garlic, egg, 100g grated cheddar (or parmesan) and seasoning in a bowl and mix together. This will form a thick pasty filling.

Stir in the water to loosen up the mixture and set 60ml (a quarter of a cup) aside. This will be used on the top of the lasagne instead of béchamel sauce.

Remove the spinach from the microwave and drain through a sieve.

Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible. You should end up with a solid ball by the end of it.

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Pull the lump of spinach apart and stir it into the ricotta mix and now is time to start building the lasagne.

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Lightly oil a baking tray and place a sheet of pasta on the base.

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Spread out some of the filling on top and add another sheet on that.

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Repeat this using up all the filling and finally top with the last sheet of pasta.

Spread out the spare cheese mixture from before and sprinkle on the mozzarella and reserved cheddar.

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Bake for half an hour and then increase the temperature to gas mark 6 (2000C) for the last ten minutes to crisp up the top.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making some dessert, check out my recipe for chocolate fondants or if you are looking for a slightly different main course, why not make yourself a Thai curry?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for choux buns with a delicious filling.

H