Recipe: Red Pepper Soup with a Grilled Cheese

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Some people decorate their homes with works of art, or that 90s poster of the hunky guy holding a baby, or photographs of the people close to them, or that 90s poster of the hunky alien going “Take Me To Your Dealer”, or this thing for reasons unknown to anybody, or mirrors (Oh wait, I already said works of art LOL).

Our kitchen is pretty pokey, and there’s only room for a couple of accoutrements on the walls – one of them is a “Life’s Too Short for Bad Coffee” screenprint by our friend Will Tapply who you should definitely check out, and the other is a menu that I managed to sneak past the (frankly superfluous) security guards when we went and had lunch at Katz’s Deli in New Yyyawuck, and proudly framed for display.

I was reading the menu the other day while waiting for the kettle to boil, and noticed something that escaped my attention up until now – the Soup & Sandwich section.  For as long as I can remember, Soup & Sandwich has meant a bowl of Cream of Tomato, with half a sliced cheese sandwich on the side.  I’ve never had any complaints about eating it – because who can fault Heinz Cream of Tomato and white bread, crazy-paved with cheap mature cheddar? – but I’ve never tapped into the tarting-up potential like Katz’s do, with bowls of Chicken Noodle or Matzo Ball Soup served with half a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye

I decided to expand on what I was already familiar with rather than diving head-first into new territory – I’m not about to make a Chicken Noodle soup from scratch after getting home from work on a weeknight.  Heinz soup is very reasonably priced so to devote effort to simply imitating it when I could just buy a tin would be a bozo’s errand, so I decided to give the Red Pepper the chance to come out of its usual supporting role and have some time in the spotlight.

Using a similar logic, if a rubbish cheese sandwich (this term is very much relative) goes well with regular soup, then the benefit of combining  with a really good version of a cheese sandwich with really good soup is exponential.  To make the cheese sandwich better we just toast it, but don’t go rushing to the 1986 shop to buy a Breville, all you need to make this grilled cheese is a decent-ish frying pan or skillet.  This is apparently the default method in America, but it’s something I’ve only been doing since The Cheese Truck revolutionised the way I melt cheese during their stint at Trinity Kitchen.  One of the main benefits of this method is that you’re not confined to square slices of bread, so ball hard in the bakery.



For the Soup (serves 6)

3 Red Peppers, charred (Sub one for an Orange or Yellow if you like)
2 Onions, diced
2 Carrots, diced
1 Stick of Celery, diced
3 Cloves of Garlic
400ml Passata
400ml Vegetable Stock
2-3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp Tahini
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
2 Tsp Paprika

  1. Before you get started on the soup, spend 10 minutes charring the peppers over an open flame on your hob (just like in my Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chili recipe) and peel the blackened skins off under a cold tap.  Chop the tops off and deseed them, then leave them to one side until later.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of your knife – this way they won’t burn and make everything taste bitter, and they’ll get pulverised at the end when the soup gets blended.  Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan with the onion, celery and carrot and cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the paprika and toast for about 30 seconds, then add the passata, stock, tomato paste and stock.  Bring to a boil, cover and leave it simmering for about 15 minutes, then take off the heat.
  4. Blend the soup, taking care not to splash boiling hot liquid over your crotch and kitchen and then transfer it back to the pan you cooked it in – if you can do it all in the same place with a stick-blender then even better.  Stir (or stick-blend) in the Tahini and Cider Vinegar.  The Tahini adds a depth of flavour and gives it the kind of glossy viscosity you’d usually rely on cream for, and Cider Vinegar brings out the tang of the peppers.  

The quantities I’ve given might not be perfect so feel free to add more of the ingredients that can be emulsified into the soup easily – Tahini to make it thicker, Cider Vinegar for bite, and Paprika for warmth.  Leave the soup to one side and get started on the Sandwich:

For the Grilled Cheese (per person)

2 Slices of Bread
100g Mature Cheddar, grated
1/2 Ball of Mozzarella, torn

  1. Put your frying pan on a low heat, if it’s too high then you’ll end up with a sandwich that’s burnt on the outside but uncooked on the inside (it doesn’t balance out) Butter the bread – a good sourdough works best for this, with a crunchy crust and plenty of air bubbles inside – and place a slice butter-side down in the pan.
  2. Pile the cheese evenly over the bread.  Some will fall or overflow, but this is good, those bits will trail out of the finished sandwich as crispy bits, and give some great texture and range of flavours.  Don’t go mental though, Jamie Oliver’s version ends up looking like the crown from Game of Thrones 
  3. Put the other slice of bread on top, butter side up.  If you’ve got a heavy skillet or another frying pan and a few jars then use it to compress everything down (a sheet of greaseproof between the sandwich and heavy pan stops butter going everywhere)
  4. Check it’s not burning after 2 minutes, if it’s starting to then lower the temperature and flip it over.  Press the other side down with your heavy pan and cook it for another 3 minutes
That’s it, cut it in half and get dipping.  Check back for more adventurous flavour combinations for soup and grilled cheese, or let me know if there’s any you’d like to see me try.

Recipe: Red Pepper & Lentil Soup

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Soup’s great, isn’t it?  It’s basically a warm smoothie; it’s tasty, you can idly ladle into your mouth for a couple of minutes, and by the end of it you’ve ticked off the majority of your 5-a-day in one go.  
Since the beginning of this year I’ve been trying to get creative with recipes for soup that I can pop into my Thermos and bring to work as an alternative to school dinners – so far I’ve experimented with Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato Thai Curry, Stilton, Apple & Parsnip, and Split Pea & Mint (Recipes for all of these will be available soon, but there are some clues in their names).  While they’ve been universally delicious, anything made with a lot of root vegetables tends to turn into a Genie made of farts after spending 6 hours trapped in a Thermos – or, to complete the metaphor, a magic lamp – waiting to be rubbed out at lunchtime.

Seeing as my office is a studio without any ventilation this obviously won’t do, and so I’m facing the challenge of making a soup which is a satisfying viscosity, healthy (so no cream of tomato), and doesn’t contain too many root vegetables which cause awkwardness when a colleague comes into my office half an hour after the last evidence of the soup has been slurped away.  I’ve been playing around with lentils since getting Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem book for Christmas, and so red lentils seemed like they’d be the perfect thickening agent for any soup with a fairly delicate flavour that would otherwise be overpowered.  I wouldn’t normally use Red Peppers as a main ingredient in something like this as they’re ridiculously expensive to buy individually, and being the most coveted of Supermarket Peppers you only ever get one of them compared to three green ones in bags of assorted peppers.  As chance would have it though I found 6 of them in a bag for 80p, just because they weren’t cosmetically consistent, obviously I’m against the thought of food being wasted because of Supermarkets’ vanity, but as long as there are people like you and me to buy them at a mark down then everybody wins.


Ingredients
  • 6 Red Peppers
  • 2 Onions, quartered (Note: I used leeks in my recipe just because I had a couple that needed using up, so feel free to use artistic license with this part of the recipe)
  • 3 Carrots, sliced lengthways
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 litre Vegetable Stock (2 Stock cubes and a litre of boiling water)
  • 100g Red Lentils
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Tsp Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Natural Yoghurt (Optional)



Method
  1. Remove the stalks and seeds from the red peppers and cut in half down the middle.  Put them on a baking tray skin side up with the cloves of garlic, give them a generous drizzle of Olive Oil, sprinkle with Salt & Pepper and roast at 200°c for about 30-40 minutes or until they start to char around the edges.
  2. While the Peppers are roasting, start to soften your onions in a big saucepan or stockpot, it should realistically take about 10-15 minutes over a Low-Medium heat
  3. Take your peppers out of the oven when they begin to char and the skin starts to bubble, leave them to cool, and peel off the skins.  If you’re anything like me, use this time to lament the fact you didn’t place them skin-side up on the baking tray because that would have made them a lot easier to peel.  It’s a fiddly and messy job, but it’s well worth it so do persevere.
  4. Add the pepper flesh and the garlic cloves to the onions and stir together, then add your vegetable stock, lentils, carrots, bay leaf and paprika.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the carrots are fully cooked.
  5. When the carrots are tender (but not mushy) remove it from the heat and allow to cool a little bit, then remove the bay leaf and then blend until smooth.

This should make about 4 portions, which is the magic number of consecutive servings before I start to get bored and crave something slightly different.  It’ll keep for about a week in tupperware in your fridge, just dish it out, heat it up, and stir a spoon of natural yoghurt or creme fraiche through before serving.

Any more ideas for soup recipes that won’t make my office smell like butt?  I’m all ears.