Well this is a turn up for the books, isn't it? Snow in the first week of December. Imagine the faces of the little gambling elves at William Hill light up with glee at the thought of hopeful punters willing to take yet another punt on a white Christmas. Ordinarily I'd be locked in a warm kitchen, producing lasagne by the acre or meatballs by the tonne, ready for my winter hibernation. However this year as Christmas approaches I've noticed my waistline expanding, no doubt as a direct result of my career choices. Certainly three weeks of bread products can't have helped. But it's a challenge finding warming and hearty meals that don't also include a whole pat of butter or kilo of flour so I find myself turning to soups.
It can be the simplest of repasts or the most complex of deep and hearty stews and it's the latter I'm going to be focusing on for most of this week. Between now and my next college class I'll be producing a number of different dishes, not low fat as such, but certainly packed full of fresh vegetables, protein rich pulses and bone-seeping warmth. Considering the next topic on the college course is pasta I couldn't miss the opportunity to lose a couple of pounds. First up is a vegetarian Tuscan Bean Soup. There are hundreds of different recipes for this dish. Some contain meat stock, some have a mixture of beans or vegetables and others contain entire bones of ham so you really can be guided by the contents of your fridge. The one thing all versions agree on is that the soup should have a rich tomato base that thickens with the pulses, providing a comforting warmth. I've devised a vegetarian version as I've been making a lot of heavy meat and game dishes recently and fancied a change.
Tuscan Bean Soup - serves 4
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for dribbling
- 900ml water
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, 1" batons
- 1/2 courgette, 1" batons
- 1 small red pepper, 1" batons
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 200g baby leaf spinach, shredded
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 400g soaked borlotti beans (1 can)
- 200g soaked chickpeas (1/2 can)
- S&P to taste
- 4 slices ciabatta, toasted
- grated parmesan for sprinkling (if desired)
- Chop all the vegetables and in a small saucepan simmer the trimmed offcuts, including the onion skin with the 900ml of water for10 mins.
- While the stock is simmering, heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the vegetables, garlic and whole rosemary sprig for 10 mins until soft. Now add the tomato paste and stir through the vegetables before adding the can of tomatoes and the stock. Season to taste with S&P
- Mash half the borlotti beans with a fork and add to the pan. Now simmer on a low heat for 30 mins. Taste again and season more if required. Add the remaining beans, chickpeas and spinach to the pan and simmer for a further 20 mins.
- Once the soup is served place a slice of ciabatta toast on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese (if desired). Garnish with basil leaves or a sprig of rosemary.