Saturday, 12 July 2008

A Delicious Summer Lunch

Home-made soup, home-made bread and fruit freshly picked from the garden. Ambrosia.

I made up the soup recipe. I sometimes tweak it, so the quantities are somewhat vague. I'm rather pleased with it as my attempts to devise recipes usually end up in the bin or as friend-and-family jokes - or both. Someone only has to say "lager soup", or "no-bake key lime pie" (the one that drooled out of the tin and oozed floorward over the edge of the table) and everybody grimaces and falls about.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Feta (5-6 servings)

You need enough red peppers (de-seeded and quartered) to cover the base of a 30cm by 23cm (12" by 9") roasting tin or similar, and enough medium-sized ripe tomatoes (halved) to cover the base of another, cheek by jowl. (OK, tomatoes and peppers haven't got cheeks or jowls but you know what I mean).

Tuck in 2 or 3 peeled, whole cloves of garlic per tin and sprinkle over enough olive oil to coat everything.

Roast at 200 deg C/180 deg C fan/Gas 6 for about 45 minutes-1hr, or until the peppers are starting to blacken and the tomatoes are soft. The toms might take a bit longer than the peps.

In a food processor (or a large saucepan using a stick blender), whizz the contents to smoothness with about a litre of good vegetable stock (I use Marigold as I don't often make my own) and a generous handful of torn basil leaves. After this, you can push the soup through a sieve to get rid of tomato seeds and any bits of skin but I don't bother - I'm too lazy, and besides I like something to chew in my soup.

Either way, heat the soup gently, crumbling in about 100g (4oz) of feta cheese, or more if you like. The cheese won't dissolve completely, so your soup will have pretty white specks in it which will add some more texture and delightful little explosions of flavour. Taste the soup, which should be quite thick. If the flavour isn't strong enough, you could add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste and/or some more cheese. Check the seasoning and it's ready to eat.

On a hot day, it's good cold. Oh, and it freezes well.

This soup cries out for some plain crusty peasant bread or even this version of soda bread which I've adapted from the traditional Irish version. I adore soda bread, not only because it's absurdly easy and quick to make and tastes divine, but also because it reminds me of my Saturday morning childhood visits to my Irish Grandad. In my memory, his sister, my Great-Aunt Hannah, who kept house for him and my Auntie Kath, is just bringing soda bread out of the oven when we arrive, ready to be cut and eaten with butter melting into the dense, nutty slices.

Oaty Wholemeal Soda Bread

275g (10oz) stoneground wholemeal flour
175g (6oz) medium oatmeal
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
25g (1oz) butter
about 300ml (half a pint) buttermilk (or plain yogurt if you can't get buttermilk) to make a sticky but handle-able dough

Put the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well to combine. Cut the butter into small pieces and work them into the flour and oat mix between your fingertips.

Add the buttermilk and stir thoroughly until everything is incorporated. If you need more liquid, you can add some milk.

Knead the dough for a couple of minutes on a floured surface, then shape it into a 20cm (8") round. Using a sharp knife, mark the round with a deep cross, place the loaf on a greased baking sheet and bake at 200 deg C/180 deg C fan/Gas 6 for about 30-35 minutes.

To test for doneness, tap the base of the loaf and if it sounds hollow, it's finished.

You can also bake it in a greased (even if non-stick) 2lb loaf tin but allow an extra 15 mins or so.

Cool on a wire rack. It's best eaten on the day it's made, but it freezes well and it also makes delicious toast!

Soda Bread cooling, watched over by Teddy Gummidge, a gift to Ian from our local hospice for agreeing to buy a weekly lottery ticket from them. He looks like A Bear Who Enjoys His Bread

And to finish, a dish of raspberries freshly plucked from these canes in our garden

In my opinion, raspberries are the most perfect of fruits in taste, texture and colour, and should be eaten just like this, unadorned and un-messed-about with. Even I can't spoil this dish!

Powers of Concentration

Here's a rather consoling article by Alan Massie in The Spectator. It's about the waning powers of concentration that dismay the ageing reader. I find it consoling for two reasons: firstly it confirms that I'm not the only one who suffers from it as I get older and secondly it offers a practical remedy. So it's not all downhill, then.