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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

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But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

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It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

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This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

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Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

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HUNGRY FOR MORE?

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

I’ve unfortunately inherited a trait from my maternal grandfather’s family.  If a type of food appealed particularly to her palate, my great aunt would go all out.  A slender and statuesque woman, she was known to devour eight-egg omelettes.  This was followed by an extended fast.  My grandfather had a particular penchant for icing: no cake was safe.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts 

My grandmother would often return home to find the once painstakingly iced cake denuded, perfectly, as if the precision of the stripping technique would make up for the action.  An entire crate of guavas went his way in one sitting, and his cupboard of chocolates had to be locked by him against himself.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Signs of this inherited characteristic were evident in me early on: for example, when I was seven, the target was a log of Chèvre which my mother had carelessly left unwrapped.  I gorged though the rind, through the crumbly outer ring, right to its buttery heart until the waxy wrapping lay completely bare.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

The Erysichthon gene (see below) is a curse, and one not to be made light of.  It strikes, making foods seem so ambrosial to the cursed that consuming them becomes his or her sole focus.

 

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

But with the pleasure comes pain, because with the claws of the curse firmly embedded, one is forced to keep eating until what was once a source of unparalleled edible pleasure becomes one’s nemesis.  The scent, sometimes the very thought, of the offending food makes bile rise in my throat.  The only cure is time.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

It has taken me fourteen years and one particularly outstanding meal to normalise my relationship with goat’s cheese.  I went to Rabbit (review to ensue shortly) which won me over with a beetroot crisp, topped with whipped goat’s cheese, honey comb and marjoram.  My knee-jerk reaction was to buy the recipe book of The Shed, Rabbit’s sister restaurant (on Amazon Prime - it was urgent).

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

With freshly unearthed enthusiasm for goat’s cheese, I pored over the book and found inspiration for this recipe.  It works wonderfully as a starter or cheese course.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

The pan frying makes the Chèvre golden and crisp on the outside, and gloriously molten on the inside.  The balsamic vinegar and maple syrup caramelise together to form a sweet and sharp treacle which cuts through the saltiness and creaminess of the Chèvre, while the toasted hazelnuts add warmth and texture, and the thyme just leaves you coming back for more…and more…and more…

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts        

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

Ovid’s tale of King Erysichthon portrays him hubristically killing a nymph of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. His punishment was insatiable hunger which resulted in exhausting the wealth of his kingdom, selling his own daughter in exchange for food, and eventually devouring himself.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for me. Click here for the whole tale, one of the best in the Metamorphoses (line 741-887).

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts   

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts                  

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients

300g log of Chevre goat’s cheese

2/3 tbsp Rapeseed oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a medium-sized non-stick frying pan)

100g hazelnuts (blanched if possible)

180ml balsamic vinegar

120ml maple syrup

60g unsalted butter

½ tsp salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme + 3 to sprinkle + 6 to serve

Serves 6 as a starter or cheese course

Method

  1. Preheat an oven to 200˚C. Gently crush the hazelnuts into halves either in a pestle and mortar or place in a bag and whack with a rolling pin.
  2. Place crushed hazelnuts on a baking tray and allow them to toast in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden.
  3. Set a small pan over a high heat and pour in balsamic, maple syrup, butter, salt, the leaves of the 3 sprigs of thyme and the toasted hazelnuts. Once it begins to boil reduce heat to a low temperature and allow to simmer while you cook the goat’s cheese.
  4. Place a medium sized non-stick frying pan over a high heat and pour in the rapeseed oil and allow it to heat for half a minute. Cut off the rind covered ends of the goat’s cheese and slice the log into 12 discs. Place these carefully into the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.  Remove from heat and place two slices on each plate to serve.
  5. After 5 minutes simmering, the sauce ingredients should now have emulsified and turned more viscose (it will thicken further as it begins to cool). If it hasn’t reached this stage, turn up the heat and stir until glossy.  Beware of over boiling it as it will turn to a jam like texture.  You can retrieve it from this stage by thinning it with a few drops of balsamic.
  6. Drizzle the warm sauce over the hot goat’s cheese. Sprinkle with the leaves of the other 3 sprigs of thyme and then place one whole sprig over each portion to decorate.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

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