Sunday, June 15, 2008

Soup for the soul

There is nothing more soothing for the soul than a bowl of hot soup. Outside, the temperature may plummet, icy winds whistle around the house or rain drum on the roof, but if you feast on a steaming bowl of soup, it feels as if the winter freeze could never touch you.

Not only is soup nourishing mentally, it's also good for you, usually being chockful of vegetables, and it's a cinch to put together. Some soups require long simmering times but others can be on your table as soon as the vegetables are cooked, making it an easy dish to fortify you when you're feeling poorly, under the weather or just in need of some pepping up.

I love that soup also requires minimal equipment: a chopping board and sharp knife to prepare, and a saucepan and wooden spoon to cook. There's an endless variety of soups to choose from: velvety veloutes that make an elegant start to a dinner party; pureed vegetables sharpened with a hint of spice for a liquid burst of healthiness; and chunky vegetable and lentil or minestrone or ribollita, which are meals in themselves. Soup can be served on its own, perhaps with some buttery toast soldiers, or you can serve with accompaniments such as croutons or dumplings. You can follow a recipe or make up your own version as the fancy takes you. Best of all, most soups are forgiving of ingredients, meaning you can substitute whatever is in your pantry.

Melbourne's winter this year seems colder than previous years and we've already treated ourselves to many soups, including smooth pumpkin, chunky minestrone, a hearty vegetable and lentil soup and classic tomato. My latest favourite cookbook, The Australian Women's Weekly Winter Favourites, featuring an irresistible chocolate pudding on the front cover, includes a recipe for ribollita or Tuscan bean soup. It requires lengthy cooking time, so on a cold weekend afternoon, it was the perfect soup to have simmering on the stove. Despite the cooking time, this soup needs minimal effort and you will be fortified for days after eating it.


2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200g piece speck, bacon or pancetta, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 x 400g cans tomatoes
1/4 medium Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups beef consomme or stock
2 litres water
400g can borlotti beans, rinsed, drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 thick slices ciabatta
extra virgin olive oil for serving

Heat oil in a large saucepan or stock pot. Add onion, garlic and speck, cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until onion is soft.

Add carrots, celery, undrained crushed tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, thyme, consomme and water. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.

Add beans, simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, toast or grill bread.

Place a slice of bread in base of six serving bowls, top with soup and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Recipe from The Australian Women's Weekly Winter Favourites

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Magazine inspiration

I love it when I arrive home from work and the latest issue of a food magazine has arrived in the mail that day. I especially love it in winter, when the cover usually features a mouthwatering photograph of a luscious pudding or a rich winter stew. I love to tuck myself away with a hot drink and spend a good hour or two reading through the magazine, noting the latest recipes and decorating the pages with sticky-notes marking all the dishes I want to try.

The winter issue of Donna Hay Magazine has just arrived. The chocolate and oat s'mores on the front cover are just a small snippet of a great issue. I thought some of the recent DHM issues had got a little uninspiring but the last two issues have been absolute crackers and I've wanted to make nearly everything featured. After flicking through the magazine, I'm already planning to make celeriac roulade and celeriac and potato soup, spinach macaroni cheese, beef, tomato and mushroom pot pies, lamb and garlic meatballs that can be used on pizzas, in soup or mixed in with herbed couscous, roast meats, hot cheese toasties and chips out of all sorts of vegetables.

Inspiration strikes as soon as I reach page 78, which features self-saucing chocolate puddings. My favourite chocolate pudding recipe is my grandmother's recipe but it takes 45 minutes in the oven, whereas these individual puddings take just 15 minutes. Before I can even think "mmm, chocolate pudding", I've already pulled out the bowl and am mixing together the ingredients for the puddings. In less than half an hour, my craving for chocolate and a hot pudding is satisfied. I'm looking forward to more inspiration from DHM this month!


75g plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoons hazelnut meal
45g brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 tablespoons coca, sifted
125ml milk
35g butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
90g brown sugar, extra
250ml boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Sift the flour, hazelnut meal, sugar, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of coca into a bowl. Add the milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla and mix well to combine. Spoon into 4 x 1-cup capacity oven-proof dishes and place on a baking tray. Mix the extra sugar and cocoa into a bowl and sprinkle over the puddings, then pour over the boiling water. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the tops are firm.

From Donna Hay Magazine, issue 39, Jun/Jul 2008.