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Bloody Mary Soup

Summer has taken a while to get here, but it’s all arrived at once and suddenly it’s hot enough to melt the tarmac and send you searching frantically for any way to cool one’s self even momentarily. Ice cream is the obvious answer, but if that doesn’t seem like a proper lunch, then a chilled soup is just the ticket.

Due to my dislike of peppers, I’ve never tried a gazpacho, but I figured that by taking my influence from fresh seasonal produce and chilling it, I would end up with something just as good. A quick rummage in the kitchen reminded me I had some lovely looking vine tomatoes and a particularly good bunch of celery. As celery only really come into its own for me as a cocktail ingredient, it didn’t take much of a leap to start knocking up a Bloody Mary soup.

Some celery and carrots went into a pan with an anchovy and half a Scotch bonnet for a fruity kick and both the veg and I sweated gently for around ten minutes. They softened and sweetened in that time while I used it to skin and chop some lovely ripe tomatoes. These then went into the pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a sprinkle of celery salt and a glug of tomato juice. Everything shimmered and simmered in the heat for about twenty minutes while I turned my attention to a sorbet.

I blended everything up to make a thick soup of unrivaled colour, adding a big splosh of Lea and Perrins, a delicate shake of Tabasco and some more black pepper before loosening the texture with two shots of ice cold vodka. The whole thing went in the fridge to chill down and I relaxed in the garden for a while. When it got overwhelming enough that I considered turning the hose on myself, I served the soup with a frozen stalk of celery as a garnish and literally drank in the refreshment.

The sleek sweetness of the tomato and carrot were lifted by the tickle of the Scotch bonnet and Tabasco while the icy cold vodka left a lovely mouth tingling kick behind. The mix of chilled liquid with the spice of the black pepper and cubeb-infused Sacred vodka and the savoury of the rich umami took my temperature down in the most delicious of ways, leaving me well refreshed and relaxed round the edges.

Not one to serve to visitors who have driven to visit you, there is no nicer way to chill out in the garden on a baking hot Sunday afternoon than with this super simple soup. Much healthier and more refreshing than any ice lolly around!

Suffering fools gladly…

gooseberry_fool-01.jpg

I was recently chatting with Miss South about the relative dearth of gooseberries for sale; prompted in part by a recent episode of the Food Programme about berries. We both loved gooseberries straight from the garden at our granny’s… the slightly peculiar texture (a little hairy and seedy like pomegranates or tomatoes) and tangy flavour was unlike anything else, and distinctly seasonal. A highly evocative memory of childhood.

An occasional treat, and one which brings back deliciously happy memories, is that of gooseberry fool. Thick cream and fruit, served in glass dishes during halcyon summer weather conditions in the countryside. In my mind’s eye, heavenly. The fact I’ve not had this dessert for so many years has undoubted contributed to a little rose-tinted spectacle wearing on my part, but also led me to crave enjoying this unctuous creamy delight all the more.

So when I saw a couple of punnets in Tesco (I’ve been scouring the markets but haven’t seen any for sale anywhere else) I pounced on them. The particular variety was touted as being sweeter and more suited to desserts than normal, and they had a slight ruddy glow to their green translucency. I was all for following a straightforward recipe for fool, but skimming through the ever-dependable Leon Cookbook I noticed they suggested pairing gooseberries and elderflower, which sounded like a wonderful match. They also suggested mixing greek yoghurt with double cream to create the creamy base, which I thought would add a touch more tang and bite to the flavour. As with all good recipes, it provided a helping hand rather than a restrictive straightjacket… not least as I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand in the correct quantities.

First the fruit got cooked down in a mix of water and sugar (a bit less sugar than Leon had suggested as the variety of berry was supposed to be sweet) and then cooled down. A couple of tablespoons of elderflower cordial got added to the mix (my homemade elderflower liqueur is still brewing away although I’d like to try this again with that once it’s ready). I used roughly a 2-to-1 proportion of double cream to natural yoghurt, then whipped the mix until it got as close to that ever-smirkworthy state of ‘stiff peaks’. The fruit was then folded into the dairy mix, squashed and smashed but still ostensibly whole. This proved to be much better than creating a smooth compote, as it made for a contrasting texture sensation. After dividing into bowls and bunging them in the fridge overnight I was able to enjoy a decadent breakfast course… light, creamy, tart, sweet and so moreable. Yum!

I’ve always liked the British predilection for fools, flummeries, blancmanges, syllabubs and other traditional dairy desserts. These haven’t totally faded from public culinary consciousness, but receive far less attention than they should. I urge you to rediscover the delights of fruit fools as they’re so damn good, and wonderfully easy to make.

Do-Re-Mi-So-Fa-ttoush!

After the hale and hearty (but somewhat heavy) dishes of central Europe it’s been good to eat lighter and ostensibly more healthy food back home. Good weather, joint birthdays and football fever (sigh) all created the excuse for a barbecue this weekend. There are certain dishes I tend to fall back on for barbecue fare: for me East Mediterranean / Middle Eastern flavours are so redolent of summer, with their cooling, fresh flavours. In the last year I’ve raided the Leon cookbook for inspiration (their sweet potato falafels and sesame chicken wings have become firm favourites) but deeper in the pantry of culinary influences is another inspirational character, Claudia Roden.

There was always something very exotic and other-worldly about her recipes in the cookbook on our parent’s kitchen shelf: unfamiliar ingredients sat cheek by jowl against old favourites. Later I learned about more about her extensive writings around the Med, but it was the Middle Eastern recipes which captured my imagination the most. Her recipe for fattoush, from her book ‘Tamarind and Saffron‘, can be found on the Waitrose website, and is the template I tend to use when making this stunning salad.

The first time I had fattoush was revelatory: clean, sharp, distinct and delicious flavours jostling for attention. I think it was probably in the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and I was intrigued by the banality of the description as a ‘bread salad’. Sounds rather dull, I thought, but my assumption was duly blown out of the water on the first mouthful. The citrus-y notes of the lemon and sumac dressing enhance the cooling qualities of the leaves, cucumber and mint, and the toasted bread provides texture and crispness. Can you tell I like this dish :-) ?

Making fattoush isn’t challenging, but it is reasonably time-consuming. I tend to associate it with standing in a sun-drenched kitchen, radio on in the background as I get engrossed in comforting routine of washing, slicing and dicing the ingredients. Wonderfully relaxing. A note though, it really is worth tracking down some real sumac, to give this salad the necessary ‘zing’. You should be able to get it in most shops in cities which cater for Middle Eastern/Persian/Arabic customers, or buy online. I’m lucky enough to be able to buy from the inimitable Alex Med in Todmorden Market, whose imported and home-prepared mixes are quite wonderful. His sumac is Syrian, and perfectly piquant.

Stir it up…