Summer Vegetable Minestrone

One thing that I have definitely become better at since becoming a parent is time management. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak organised, but I now realise I was completely terrible at managing my time!  I used to be very good at writing lists; long lists that were neatly written with little boxes to tick when I had done the task. Sounds ideal – but I would rarely, and by rarely I mean NEVER finish the list of jobs. Post-baby I still write a list every day, it’s normally scribbled on the back of an envelope with a coffee stain on, but most importantly I actually do what it says! William has been in a pretty steady two nap routine for a few months and this has made it relatively easy to be organised. It means I have two spells in the day to get things done. For my kitchen this means I need recipes that I can prep, at least in part, in advance. Most often I get the supper prep done in his morning nap as by the afternoon my enthusiasm can be dropping, or my house may have turned into a bomb-site! This summer vegetable minestrone is a perfect example of a supper that can be prepped in advanced and then cooked quickly when everyone is ready to eat.

All of the summer vegetables in this soup need minimal cooking, it takes only 10 minutes to cook and in an ideal world would be eaten straight away as this way the vegetables keep their individual character, colour and texture. On the surface it may not sound that baby friendly, but all the prep work can be done beforehand, meaning when your little one goes to bed supper is only 10 minutes away. This soup is a wonderful way of getting vast quantities of green vegetables into your family. For Will, I blend his up to make a thicker soup as the chunks are currently too big for him to manage, but an alternative for baby led weaner’s would be to drain the liquid off the soup and just give them the vegetables as they are.

The ingredient list may look long but don’t be put off, its really just a shopping list of green vegetables, and they can all be exchanged for others you may have in your fridge or freezer. The key is to not let it overcook. The other little trick in this soup is to add a parmesan rind; a trick I learnt from a Nigel Slater recipe. It works brilliantly with this soup to add a depth of flavour to the broth which would otherwise not be there owing to the soup cooking so quickly. It can be omitted but it does enhance the flavour. Adding pasta to the soup in the form of orzo or spaghetti (we use wholewheat spaghetti) makes it a filling supper on its own, but its also wonderful with some crusty bread and butter.

Soup may not seem that summery but I urge you to give this a try, it is a real celebration of all things green and sings summer!

Ingredients

  • A bunch of asparagus
  • A courgette
  • One handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
  • One leek or 4 spring onions
  • One handful of sugar snap peas (or fine beans/ mange tout)
  • Few stalks of tenderstem broccoli (normal broccoli works too)
  • One handful of frozen edamame beans
  • Parmesan Rind
  • Vegetable stock
  • Two Tbsps orzo pasta or a small handful of spaghetti broken into little pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Handful of chopped basil
  • 5-6 leaves chopped mint

Method

  • Chop all your fresh vegetables until they are the size of small cubes – try as much as possible to make everything a similar size.
  • Soften the leek or spring onion in a little olive oil, making sure they don’t colour
  • After a minute add the rest of the chopped vegetables and the edamame beans
  • Add the orzo or spaghetti pieces
  • Add the vegetable stock (a cube works just fine in this soup, because I’m also cooking for William I use salt free stock), water (about 2 pints) and the parmesan rind. Leave to simmer on a medium heat.
  • After 5 minutes add the frozen peas and mint plus half of the basil
  • Cook for further 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft but still retaining their beautiful green colour.
  • Remove the parmesan rind, ladle into bowls and garnish with the rest of the basil, enjoy!

 

Roast Aubergine & Tomato Soup

img_6131-e1499974362467.jpg

Will has been really poorly with an ear infection. It’s the first time he has been properly unwell (thankfully) and it has been horrible. He had a fever that wouldn’t come down with painkillers and it worried me a lot. As a pharmacist, I thought I would be calm and controlled when my child was ill but if anything it makes me even more neurotic! I also, despite being surrounded by medicines every day, hate to give him things if I can avoid it, so when he was given antibiotics I was weirdly disappointed – a completely stupid emotion as within two doses he had perked up no end and his temperature was back to normal. There is such negative stigma attached to antibiotics and it’s completely unfounded; of course they should only be used when needed, but when they are needed they are incredible, life saving medicines that we should thank our lucky stars for! Although he has been feeling better, he still hasn’t been his usual bubbly self and its been upsetting to see.

Anyway, as I was feeling hopeless at making my little man feel better I focussed on what I could do, making him some soothing, nutritious food. Soup is my go-to food when anyone is ill. Its quick to make, comforting, healthy and can be eaten at literally any time of day. Soups have always been a regular meal in our house, but even more so since we became parents. I love to batch cook soups and freeze portions to have for lunches or late suppers. Its also great to have something that is quick to reheat and can be eaten with one hand (or put in a mug when you have a cluster feeding newborn)!

This particular soup is a firm favourite in our house. It really showcases summer vegetables so it is perfect for this time of year. The aubergine gives the soup a wonderful creamy texture which works beautifully to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes without having to add sugar. This soup is also able to make even the most tasteless, unripe supermarket tomatoes taste delicious. Although it goes without saying that the better your tomatoes, the better the flavour will be.

Soups are also a marvellous way of sneaking extra vegetables into children or babies. I spoon-feed Will food like this (my kitchen or my type A personality wouldn’t cope if he fed himself soup!) To encourage him to feed himself as well, I give him bread soldiers that have been dunked in the soup for him to chew on. I also added some live natural yoghurt to Will’s to give him back some of the good bacteria the antibiotics may have taken!

Any leftovers can obviously be frozen but this soup also works perfectly as a pasta sauce, two recipes in one!

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine, chopped into chunks
  • 5 fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • pinch of fresh or dried oregano
  • pinch of mixed herbs
  • black pepper to taste
  • olive oil

Method

  • Chop the aubergine and tomatoes and place in an oven tray to roast with the dried herbs and a drizzle of olive oil
  • Roast them at 180C until they are soft and browning
  • Peel and finely slice the red onion and sweat in a saucepan on a  low heat until it is translucent
  • Add the oven roasted tomato and aubergine to the saucepan with the onion, rinse out the oven tray with some water and pour into the saucepan so you lose no flavour
  • Add the tin of tomatoes and a little water
  • Simmer for 15 minutes
  • Season to taste and blend, adding water until you reach your desired consistency.

 

This obviously isn’t an adult bowl of soup, but ours was eaten very late and I was too hungry for the camera!

The Most Versatile Bread Dough

There is no doubt that being a parent reduces the amount of time you can spend in the kitchen. I like to get Will involved in cooking where possible but at 10 months old  what he can safely do is rather limited. He is pulling himself up on all the furniture at the moment and we have stone floors so I’m terrified of him hurting himself! I am wondering about buying a playpen so I can pop him somewhere and know he is safe. Regardless of his new  found independence,  I still believe its important for him to get used to spending time in the kitchen. I have found that his highchair is a great place for him to sit and observe what is going on; he is high enough to see the worktops. I tend to give him kitchen implements to play with as I cook – he adores silicone baking trays, the sieve and  wooden spoons! If this fails there is always food- a strawberry tends to keep him happy for 5 minutes or so! Bread making is, as cooking goes, rather baby friendly as it only really takes 15 minutes at a time, which even the most impatient little one should hopefully sit through. This dough in particular is a fantastic thing to make as from one batch you can make a whole variety of bread-types! I have used it to make pizza bases, pitta breads, flatbreads, bread rolls and even bread sticks. I have reduced the salt as much as is possible to ensure it is suitable for little ones, and because of the flours used it requires no sugar.

Ingredients

  • 200g wholewheat strong flour
  • 50g strong white flour
  • 250g plain white flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp yeast
  • 20ml virgin olive oil  plus a little extra for the proving bowl
  • 340ml of warm water (could be more or less depending on the weather that day)

Method

  • Add the flours, yeast and oil to a large bowl
  • Add the salt to a well in the flour, ensuring it is kept away from the yeast
  • Add some of the water and combine, keep adding water until you have a slightly sticky dough. It is meant to be more hydrated than a traditional bread dough but this is correct, it becomes less so as its kneaded.
  • Knead for 10-15 minutes by hand or 15 minutes in a mixer. The dough should be springy and stretch-able.
  • Oil the mixing bowl, and place the dough in the bowl, covering with cling film or a damp tea towel.
  • Leave somewhere warm for 1 1/2 hours or until its doubled in size, it may take 2 hours

At this stage you can make different things:

Bread Rolls

This recipe makes 8-9 bread rolls

  • Roll fist-size balls of dough and place on a baking tray, let them prove until they have doubled in size again; this will take 45 minutes or so.
  • Bake in a pre heated oven for 12-15 minutes until they are golden and have a hollow sound
  • To add a crusty top sprinkle a little water on each one directly before popping them in the oven

Flat breads

This recipe makes 10 flatbreads

  • Take a fist-size ball of dough and flatten out on a floured surface until they are around 3 mm thick.
  • Leave to rest for 10 minutes
  • Get a frying pan as hot as you can (open the windows!)
  • Lay one flat bread in to the hot pan and cook on one side for around 2 minutes or until it is bubbling up and browning. They will get a little scorched but it tastes wonderful
  • Flip and cook the other side for a further minute
  • These can be eaten straight away or left to cool under a tea towel. The tea towel ensures the steam circulates around the flatbreads and keeps them soft.

Pittas

This recipe makes 12-14 pittas

  • Follow the flatbread method but make them slightly smaller and oval shaped.
  • Place them on a baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 200C for 5-10 minutes until they are puffed up and gaining a little colour.

Bread Sticks

These are a real favourite in our house! Brilliant with dips and great for teething babies to gnaw on.

  • Roll out small balls of dough, about the size of a strawberry
  • Roll these out until you have long breadsticks
  • Place on a floured baking tray and leave to rest for 5 minutes
  • Cook in a preheated oven at 200C for about 10 minutes until they are crisp and golden

This dough really is a’jack of all trades’. I often double the quantity and make a few things in one go, today I made some rolls for lunch and some flatbreads for supper. I added some cumin seeds and nigella seeds to the flatbreads when I shaped them to add a little Middle-Eastern influence as they are accompanying a tagine. As with all home-made bread, because there are no nasty preservatives it doesn’t last as long as shop-bought alternatives, but the taste is so superior it won’t last long enough to go stale anyway!

I’d love to hear from you if you try the recipe, Happy baking!