Just because it is summer in America, does not (unfortunately) mean it is summer in New Zealand. Just putting it out there – while y’all are consuming sorbets and frozen yoghurts and cooling salads, we have had snow in previously un-snowed locales, closed roads, gale force winds…Because of the said seasonal conditions, I have been on something of a soup kick lately. We’ve had it in various forms all week for dinner, and it’s ideal for combatting the incessant sharp chill of winter that permeates our damp, un-insulated, World Health Standard-violating flat.
Above: Gold on gold…a taste of sunshine for when it’s rainy outside. This soup is something I came up with while riffing on my standard pumpkin soup recipe. Basically it is the same – roasted pumpkin, mashed roughly with a wooden spoon and with stock stirred in – but I added dense, mushy cooked red lentils, a good 2/3 cup which and pretty much made it a complete meal. As well as this I sprinkled over plenty of yellow tumeric, as you can see in this picture, and ras-el-hanout, a spice mix to which I am quite addicted. It isn’t too obscure, most places these days are stocking it, and it imparts headily warm, aromatic, gentle spiciness.
As well as being seriously healthy, pumpkin and lentils are two of the cheapest things around these days. The lentils I used were some organic ones my mum sent me and the pumpkin was from the local vege market. Mmm, moral fibre and actual fibre in one bowl.
To go with the soup, and to augment the sunny golden-ness, I whipped up a batch of cornbread. The recipe I use is Nigella’s and is a favourite of mine, it always works and can be fiddled and faddled with to no ill effect and is the perfect accompaniment to almost anything (particularly butter…)
175g cornmeal (or polenta, same diff so look for either)
125g plain flour
45g caster sugar
2 t baking powder
250ml full fat milk
45g butter, melted
Set oven to 200 C. Grease whatever you’re using – a muffin tin, a 20cm-ish brownie tin, etc. What I usually do is melt the butter in a decent sized microwave-proof bowl. Then I stir in the milk and egg with a fork. Then tip in all the dry ingredients, mix till just combined – don’t worry about lumps – then pour into your receptacle and bake, for 20-25 minutes. I have made this with superfine cornmeal and the more granular stuff, and a mix of the two, anything is fine really although the granular stuff gives slightly more bite to your finished product.
We had this soup again, with leftover cornbread for mopping up, the next night. This time I roasted some carrots as well and mashed them in once tender. They gave an added note of natural sweetness which was quite effective…
One of my favourite things about Cuisine magazine is Ray McVinnie’s Quick Smart column, where he gives, every month – how does he do it? – an exhaustive list of meal ideas and recipes based on a particular theme. After reading his promptings to make any number of soups, I tried this. I sauteed finely chopped onions and garlic, then added some chopped free-range bacon, stirring till cooked. I added diced, floury potatoes, dried thyme, and porcini stock, and allowed it to simmer till the potatoes were utterly tender and melting into the stock. I sprinkled over some nutmeg and pink peppercorns and biffed in a crisp green handful of chopped spinach, which wilted on impact. This deliciously thick, comforting soup was what Tim and I ate while watching Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story on DVD. After we finished watching it we weren’t overly impressed, but the next day we were repeating quotes back and forth and cracking up…anyway it’s worth it for Jack White’s cameo as Elvis Presley alone.
On Friday night Tim and I had fish and chips, a decision perhaps fuelled by the amount of wine I had at after-work drinks that afternoon (nothing to worry about, but put it this way – I didn’t make it to Bikram yoga.) Through work I scored free tickets to see Samuel Flynn Scott, one of New Zealand’s most prolific musicians. He is well-known for his work with the Phoenix Foundation and the Eagle vs Shark soundtrack, as well as dabbling in other side projects yet…I’d never really heard any of his stuff. All I knew about him was that he was endowed with a fullsome beard and had participated in our Smoking: Not Our Future campaign. What can I say – we had a great night. He and his equally beardy band Bunnies on Ponies were tight, charismatic, fun, and the banter mercifully tended to err on the side of witty. Because I’ve never really heard much of their music I wouldn’t want to make any comparisons in case they were absolutely wrong but…they had a kind of ModestMouse-happyREM-SplitEnz thing going on. They finished with a rousing cover of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, a ditty that I love…
On Saturday I was lucky enough to catch up with my mother and my godmum, who were in town for a language teachers’ conference…after an enormous lunch with them at the Black Harp Tim and I had soup number 3 for dinner – a light, noodly Japanese-style broth.
I have stopped buying exciting ingredients with such mad gay abandon these days, partly because of money, partly because of lack of space, but when I found some dried borlotti beans going very cheaply at the Meditteranean Warehouse in Newtown I consciously ignored that rule…They were soaked, and simmered up for Nigella’s Pasta e Fagioli from Nigella Bites. It couldn’t be simpler – it is basically just cooked up beans and pasta. I added a tin of tomatoes and a splash of sherry, and it made for a perfect Sunday night dinner. No accompaniments necessary, apart from a spoon.
Tim and I start back at university tomorrow. It seems like just yesterday that I was dashing up hill and down dale in February trying to register for my classes in the sweltering heat and now I’m in my final term. I’m doing three 3rd year papers this semester, hopefully it’s not too gruelling, but then I think to myself, surely nothing could be as gruelling as the photography paper. By the way, I finished up with a good, solid B as my final mark for that particular gem of a class, not bad eh what? And in a matter of months I shall be Laura Vincent, BA…