Comfort Food Week: Butterbean and Pancetta Soup

You don’t need me to tell you how comforting soup is. It heals you when you’re ill, it warms you, and it generally contains things that are good for you. It is for these reasons that I knew I had to purchase a new blender, after my old one broke a couple of years ago. Two soupless winters were enough for me, so I bit the bullet and bought a new one.

Of course, now I wonder what took me so long, as I settled for this K-Mix blender which makes soup a million times smoother and more velvety than my old one did, and I’m having a great time turning everything and anything into soup. In fact, I’m going a bit soup-crazy at the moment; I’ve started buying reduced veggies from the supermarket so I can turn them into soup (as well as reduced fruit to make smoothies with), which is a really great way to save money! Also it’s going to stop me getting bored of eating the same few soups that I’ve made so far and I’m taking to work every day.

My current favourite soup is this butterbean and pancetta soup. I came across the recipe whilst browsing BBC Good Food, and making soup from beans is not something that I had ever considered before. This is one of those recipes that you think might be really bland and dull because it’s got so few ingredients, and, to be honest, the recipe on its own is a little bland. I added a lot more onion and garlic than the original recipe said, which makes it much more flavoursome and interesting, especially for a garlic freak like me. Another thing about this soup is that I wouldn’t dream of eating it without the pancetta. It’s what makes the soup worth making. Obviously you could use smoked bacon, but it’s the smoky flavour of the pancetta, and its crispness, coupled with the smooth, velvety soup that makes this so good. And considering this soup takes less than half an hour to make from scratch, it’s great for a last-minute lunch or dinner when you’ve got nothing but bacon in the fridge and don’t want carbonara (I seem to find myself in this situation a lot). And one last point: this soup is really really filling. I photographed it here with a slice of bread halved, and I only ate one half with it as it was so filling (I admit though I did eat the other half with butter and jam, oops). If I’d filled these terrines with the soup I’d have had to give up half way through. So be careful when serving!

Butterbean and pancetta soup

Serves 2

1 carton or tin of butterbeans

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A knob of butter

A handful of thyme stalks, stripped of leaves, or 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme

500ml vegetable stock, plus more to thin to preferred consistency

6 rashers of pancetta or smoked bacon

Snipped chives, to serve

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the butter in a pan and melt on a medium heat. Chop the onions roughly (the best thing about pureeing soup is that nothing needs to be chopped particularly carefully) and soften in the butter for 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Drain the butterbeans and add them to the pan with the thyme and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the pancetta or bacon on a tray and cook in the oven for 5 minutes or until crisp. Blend the soup until smooth, adding more stock if necessary to thin it down as you like it. Serve with chives snipped over and pieces of pancetta on top. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Seeded sausage rolls

A few weeks ago I took some time off work because my 5 year-old niece came to stay. We knew we were going to take her to Legoland so I said I would cook something with her to take as a picnic. As you’re well aware, my love for sausages knows no bounds, and I know how much children love sausage rolls, so I said we would make those as I also knew it would be something that she could get quite involved with. So, with aprons on, we had a great time mushing up the sausage meat, brushing the egg on to the pastry, and most importantly, testing out the sausage rolls when they were still warm from the oven. They seemed to meet with her approval so they are definitely worthy of an appearance on the blog!

They would be really easy and even quicker to make if you were making them yourself and not with little ones, and they were really really delicious. Best of all, if you can get really good sausage meat then you know exactly what’s going in them, and could add anything you liked into the mixture for different flavours. Oh and no, I don’t make my own puff pastry. Shoot me down if you want, but life’s way too short to be making pastry for a children’s picnic!

Seeded sausage rolls

Makes 8

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry

Around 300g sausagemeat

Half a medium onion

1 tablespoon thyme (fresh or dried)

A splash of Worcester sauce

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Egg, for brushing

Poppy and pumpkin seeds for sprinkling

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Chop the onion very finely and fry in a tablespoon of oil until golden. Leave to cool.

Once the onions are cooled, combine the sausagemeat, thyme, onions, Worcester sauce, salt & pepper. Mix everything together really well (this is where the little ones can get their hands in and get nice and messy!).

Unroll the pastry sheet and cut into 8 evenly-sized squares. I arranged mine in a landscape orientation and made one cut along the length in the middle, and then three cuts downwards.

Arrange a blob of the sausage mixture onto one side of each pastry piece, leaving a bit of room around the edges (don’t leave too much room though, as the meat shrinks up when it’s cooked). Brush the edges of the pastry with water and seal together with the tines of a fork. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden. These taste amazing when still warm for the oven but are perfect for picnics. Enjoy!

Chicken and bacon salad with bacony dressing

I know a recipe for chicken and bacon salad seems pretty basic, but this is one of my favourite things to eat EVER, and is particularly good when served up for lunch for friends or taken on a picnic, so I definitely think it’s worth sharing. In fact, my favourite chicken and bacon salad moment was spent sitting on a bench on Dover’s Hill in the Cotswolds, with a huge box of this sat between me and my best friend as we munched on it and took in the view.

Anyway, I digress. This salad is my favourite way to use up leftover chicken (in fact I would rather eat less chicken for the main dinner so that I have enough left for this), especially since I rarely feel like I can justify buying and cooking chicken JUST for this salad. I only buy free-range chicken so we don’t eat it that often as it’s so expensive. I normally buy the cheaper pieces like thighs or legs, but once we’ve eaten those for dinner there’s rarely any leftovers. So having this salad is really a rare treat!

If I’d had some avocados I would have definitely put them in – I love their cool creaminess against the rich dressing and crispy bacon. I’ve also seen a Nigella recipe were she crumbles some chestnuts into the pan with the bacon which sounds incredible. I’m definitely going to try that with the can of chestnuts I’ve got left from Christmas!

If you can really call this a recipe, then here goes:

Chicken and bacon salad with a bacony dressing
Serves 2

2 handfuls of cooked, torn chicken
4/5 rashers streaky bacon/pancetta
Salad leaves (I used a bag of beetroot salad here)
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Pan fry the bacon/pancetta until crispy. Arrange the salad leaves in the bowl and scatter over the chicken. When the bacon is cooked cut into pieces and scatter over the salad. Mix together the olive oil with the dijon mustard. Add this mixture to the pan (off the heat) and stir to mix the bacony juices in with the mustard and oil (I use one of those little curly whisks in the picture below). Add the vinegar and mix again, and everything should become a glossy emulsion. Pour over the salad and enjoy!