Community kitchen - comfort food for winter
Comfort food for Winter
In winter vegans and vegetarians come into their own when it comes to cooking healthy, comforting and warming meals. Fresh British vegetables are in the shops, with no worries about shortages in case Brexit might have closed borders.
For lucky people with access to an allotment or good greengrocer, carrots, cabbage, celeriac, cauliflower, celery, leeks, onions, parsnips, mushrooms and of course potatoes are in season. The nice thing about this season is produce lasts for ages, so there should always be something available as a basis for delicious soup.
If you have an allotment, now is the time to pore over catalogues deciding what to plant. It's surprising where you can grow veg, even if you have the smallest plot and living 200 yards from Harrods, I managed to grow cherry tomatoes and runner beans in window boxes.
To make soup, start with a good stock as a basis. You can buy this in supermarkets, grocers, good butchers, etc. Use stock cubes or tins, but before you buy, spend time reading labels. There are some good products out there, but equally some are full of preservatives and other additives, so know your labelling before you buy.
If you make your own stock the simplest are probably chicken stock or vegetable stock. For chicken stock, keep the skin and bones from a roast chicken carcass, and pop into a large pan with a lid. Cover generously with water, bring to the boil and add vegetables as for vegetable stock below.
Vegetable stock - add any or all of the following into a pan of water:
- Celery tops and/or celery stick cut into 2-inch segments
- 1 large onion, quartered (no need to peel)
- Carrot, cut into 2-inch segments
- Parsley, 1 bunch
- Sea Salt 1/2 teaspoon
- Pepper, at least 10 grinds
- You can also add any other root veggies you have spare.
Bring to the boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 2 to 4 hours, occasionally skimming off any foam that comes to the surface and adding water if needed so contents are just covered. Leave to cool, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into containers, store in the fridge or freeze. Discard all veg, etc and use fresh veg when you are re-heating to eat. If making stock for future use in soups, you may want to reduce this by simmering an hour or two longer to make it more concentrated and easier to store.
Once you have made stock, you can just add this to make many different flavoured soups. For example,
To make a comforting vegetable soup add as many veg as you like and simmer until veg are cooked,
Add pasta and tomatoes for Minestrone and heat until pasta is cooked,
Or use veg for soups like cauliflower and stilton,
For thick soup put everything in the blender and whizz. (make sure the lid is secure before turning on - soup can fly everywhere!). You can add milk or milk powder to make it more nutritious. And if you need more protein it is easy to add protein powder or a Protein Shake or milk or you can stir in a tablespoon of cream for topping,
Stracciatella (Soup with extra protein) - Whisk 1 to 2 eggs, then add any of following items:
- 1 tsp semolina flour
- 1 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino Romano cheeses
Whisk together in a bowl until well blended. You can even add cayenne pepper and nutmeg if you want. Pour the mixture into simmering stock and serve. The mixture produces 'egg' shreds across the top, hence the name.
Rhubarb is now in season, and Rhubarb Crumble is one of the best 'comfort puddings' I know. It can also be made with apples, plums, or other soft fruit as well as rhubarb. This is my favourite recipe.
- 400 to 500 grams rhubarb or suitable fruit.
- 100g cold butter, cubed
- 150g self-raising flour
- 60g sugar (I use soft brown, but you can use caster or granulated)
- 40g jumbo or porridge oats (not essential if you don't have them, but they add crunch)
- Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200°C, fan 180°C. Wash and trim the ends from the rhubarb, then cut into thumb-size lengths. Spread evenly in a 1.2ltr pie dish or baking dish, sprinkle over 60g sugar. and pour over enough water to cover generously the bottom of the dish.
- In a large mixing bowl, rub together your fingertips with butter, flour, 60g sugar and oats to make a breadcrumb like mixture.
- Sprinkle this topping evenly over the rhubarb.
- Place the rhubarb dish on a baking tray (to catch any juices that spill over) and bake for 45 mins until tender, cover the top with foil if it begins to brown too quickly. Serve hot with custard, cream or ice cream.
Every so often a PR agency will trot out this iconic word, attaching it to a fruit or vegetable which has a glut and hoping publicity makes it THE thing to eat. But I reckon every veggie or fruit is a superfood - they are all good for you, with lots of Vitamin 'C', and many have other benefits.