I find that not having a fridge and cupboards constantly stocked means that you can set yourself a creative challenge to cook something delicious out of frugal ingredients. Whilst not everyone will have some smoked cheese lurking at the back of the fridge as I was surprised to find in mine today, you may have a small unkempt patch of nettles in the garden to forage and a lump of cheddar in the fridge. If you live near Frome and you like smoked cheese, the Wiltshire Smokehouse produce a really good one, which they sell locally and at Frome Farmers’ Market.
This easy soup recipe has been a family favourite for years now and is versatile with endless permutations, depending on which storecupboard ingredients you have. Add 50g of chopped pancetta or bacon with the onions, substitute the chickpeas for cannellini or flageolet beans, the spaghetti for whichever pasta you have to hand, the onions for leeks, carrots and peppers for French beans, broad beans or potatoes. The same goes for the pesto; you can also check out my recipes for wild garlic pesto or basil pesto. Or omit the pesto altogether and just add some finely grated parmesan or similar cheese at the end.
Serve with sourdough toast rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil and a green salad.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, diced
Tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1½ pints of stock (I used Marigold bouillion)
Tin of chickpeas
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
25g spaghetti, roughly broken, or macaroni
100g nettle tops, picked with rubber gloves and rinsed
50g finely grated smoked cheese
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
250 ml olive oil
Heat the oil and fry the onion, carrot and pepper for 10 minutes on a medium-low heat.
Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so.
Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, smoked paprika and herbs, cook for 5 minutes before adding the stock, chickpeas, sugar and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the nettle and smoked cheese pesto. Blanch the nettle tops for 1 minute in boiling water and then cool by running cold water over them. Squeeze out the moisture and roughly chop the nettles. Blitz the walnuts in a food processor or in a jug using a stick blender, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a paste.
Add the pasta to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Serve the bowls of soup with a dollop of pesto on each.
Children love the novelty factor of eating nettles and because this is a family-friendly meal and inspired by Italy, I’m entering this for the Family Foodies Italian challenge, hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash, along with Louisa at Eat Your Veg.
As this soup is packed full with vegetables, I’m also entering it for this month’s Extra Veg challenge, hosted by Jo from Jo’s Kitchen, along with Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.