Minestrone (or, a soup full of stars)

Minestrone

“She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”

There are times, even when life is all well and good, when I wish I was somewhere else. Right now, as the streets of London ache with cold, is one of those times.

My office is cold. The radiator is bust. We sit at our computers huddled in coats and clutching hot drinks and willing the heat to come on. Or willing the day to end so we can be elsewhere. Probably somewhere with central heating. It’s as I will the day to end and will the heat to come on that my mind wanders, and my head goes off into the stars and imagines everywhere else I might want to be. 

I like the cold. I just do not like to be trapped in it. If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a lodge, maybe somewhere in the snowy Scottish Highlands. There would be whole wooden cupboards full of blankets, and a tiny little fireplace, and bookshelves full of young adult fiction. And access to the internet. In the lodge, it is ok for me to be by myself when I want to. It is ok for me to go outside and stare at the mountains, and play in the snow, and build a snowman, and come back inside all ruddy-cheeked to warm up with deep mugs of hot chocolate and pink marshmallows.

Soffrito

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a city. Not London. I would choose somewhere I have never been before – Krakow, maybe, or Berlin, where beer is cheap – and I would have someone with me to hold my hand as we run around exploring, taking in tall buildings and art we don’t understand and brand new sights. We would toast with strangers in beer halls and kiss in the moonlight in the main square. 

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose to be on the beach. Not in the scorching heat, but when it is warm enough to only wear a t-shirt. It would be the good kind of beach, with proper sand for sculpture. I would feel confident enough in my own skin to wear shorts and to let ice cream drip down my chin. I would bring friends, and we would throw a frisbee to each other and bury someone up to their neck. We would wade in the shallow tide and collect shells, and we would do it all without any sense of crippling self-consciousness. 

Minestrone Pasta Stars

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would pick a swimming pool, with knotted hair scraped back from my face and warm water gently supporting me as I lift an arm, and pull, the other arm up, and pull, and kick kick kick. I would lie on my back and drift through the water, and put my ears down under the surface and enjoy the strange, muffled sound of everything around me. 

Sometimes, you cannot be where you would choose. I can’t. I need to come to work, and earn money, and all of those real person things. And so, to make the cold bearable, I made a soup. In it, I put those little pasta stars, so that when I stare into the soup (clutched between my icy white hands), it feels a bit special. The stars, surrounded by all the different colours of vegetables, remind me that there is a whole world outside the window. But for now there is soup, and it is warming, and filling, and a little bit special. 

“Adventures are all very well in their place, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.” 

Minestrone

 

Minestrone
Serves 4
A warming, comforting and deeply flavourful soup, full of little stars.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. A knob of butter
  2. 1 onion
  3. 2 carrots
  4. 3 sticks celery
  5. 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
  6. 5 fat cloves of garlic
  7. A few shakes of chilli powder, if liked
  8. A tin of chopped tomatoes (400g)
  9. Water - enough to fill the tin 2 and a half times
  10. 2 chicken stock cubes*
  11. 3/4 cup pasta stars (or any other small pasta)
  12. A tin of cannellini beans (400g)
  13. A few handfuls of spinach, roughly chopped
Instructions
  1. First, make a soffrito. Chop up the carrot, the onion and the celery - as chunky or as fine as you like, depending on how chunky or fine you like your soup to be.
  2. Over a medium heat, melt the butter in a big saucepan. When it's melted, add the carrot, onion and celery - your soffrito - and let cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to go a little clear. Keep it moving so the butter coats the soffrito and the vegetables start to shine like little gems.
  3. Mince your garlic. Add the crushed fennel seeds and garlic to the pan and leave to cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic gets a bit fragrant.
  4. Add your tin of tomatoes to the pan, then the water. Just re-fill the can from the tap, put it in the pan, repeat, repeat again but with a half full can. You can use more or less depending how thick you like a soup.
  5. Crush in the stock cubes, add some chilli and maybe a few grinds of black pepper.Give it a stir to blend in the stock cubes. Bring to the boil.
  6. Add in the beans and the cup of pasta. Leave on the heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the pasta has cooked through.
  7. Add the spinach, stir, and cook for 2 minutes or so until just wilted.
  8. Serve, or put in tupperware in the fridge ready to be taken to work and held close for warmth.
Notes
  1. *you could use vegetable stock to make this recipe vegetarian
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

BBQ Beer Can Chicken (or, tradition)

Doughs and Donts_BBQ Beercan Chicken Title
Lillis pointed out that we have been friends for like 6 years. Maybe 7. That’s a long time. Like most friendships that span great time and big oceans, we have developed traditions; they include cuddles that are a bit too keen and more in-jokes than I can ever count. One tradition – a very good one – is making Beer Can Chicken. 

Doughs and Donts_BBQ Beercan Chicken On Can
I do not remember how this tradition began. All I know is that Lillis once made a beer can chicken while I was around, probably some time in my first year of uni during the coldest winter I have ever known, and it was brilliant. They happened a few more times over the course of the few years we both spent in Edinburgh, and again nearly every time we saw each other again. This time, eleven months since we were last in the same room, we made it once again. 

Beer Can Chicken, like a good friendship, is ridiculous and silly but is completely worth it and completely warming. 

Doughs and Donts_BBQ Beercan Chicken Crving
It begins with drinking. You need to use a half full beer can for the chicken. So drink. Share the half a can. Then, you are ready. You place the chicken so it sits upright, sitting with the beer can in its bum. This gives you a really lovely moist chicken, and it means the meat cooks evenly, rather than the legs being tied together and blocking the heat. The skin will get really crispy. Here, we made a BBQ rub. It was a little sweet, a little spice and a little sticky, and it was great. 

Doughs and Donts_BBQ Beercan Chicken Carved
Most importantly, beer can chicken looks impressive. It is a strange spectacle, so even when there are just two of you, it is the best kind of meal; the best way to celebrate actually being in the same country as your favourite friend for the first time in nearly a year. 

Doughs and Donts_Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

We served it with a recipe loosely based on Nigella Lawson’s Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese, which was good, and far too plentiful for only 2 people (I got pretty excited about an ENORMOUS sweet potato in the supermarket… and, fun fact, if you cook mac in a wok in the oven it will crisp *on the bottom* not the top). We drank more beer (New York, in turns out, is pretty excellent for good beer), and we watched good films, and we enjoyed a tradition that’s been going nearly 7 years. 

Doughs and Donts_BBQ Beercan Chicken Plated

BBQ Beer Can Chicken
A chicken cooked upright on a beer can. Moist and delicious.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
For the rub/glaze
  1. Several tablespoons BBQ sauce (we used the korean kind, if you do not have the Korean kind, you might want to throw in some chilli flakes, some garlic or some sesame oil - I don't know that you can even get the Korean kind in the UK)
  2. A good glug of maple syrup
  3. Another glug of beer
  4. (Quantities will vary on your taste and the size of your chicken, so do as you will)
Otherwise
  1. A chicken
  2. A can of beer, half full (do not use one with a widget in)
Instructions
  1. Heat your oven to about 200 °C
  2. Drink half the can of beer.
  3. Place the half full can on a roasting tin or baking tray. Then elegantly spread the legs of the chicken to widen it's bum, and with a thumb each side of the chicken's bum place it over the can, so it sits upright with the can up its arsehole. It will look hilarious.
  4. Drizzle the rub all over the chicken. Maybe use your fingers to get it in all the little crevices between the wings and legs.
  5. Put it in the oven. You might need to rearrange your oven shelves to accommodate the upright chicken, and that is ok.
  6. After 20 mins, turn the oven down to about 170°C and cook until the juices of the chicken run clear when you pop a skewer in it, drizzling on the rest of the rub/glaze half way through the cooking time. You can work out how long to cook your chicken by using the BBC Roast Timer: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/tools/roast-timer
  7. Leave to rest for ten minutes or so out of the oven. Carve, or tear apart. Serve.
Notes
  1. Do not use a can with a widget in it (this means most Guinness cans, I think).
  2. Our chicken was quite small, so ever pratical Lillis lopped it in half with a blade. If you do this, watch your fingers.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Spicy, Saucy, Sausagey Sharing Eggs (or, Food Brut)

Spicy, Saucy, Sausagey Sharing Eggs
I am in New York City, visiting my favourite friend, Lillis. It has been a few days of drinking, photographing and wandering down New York’s straight, straight streets. 

Last year when I was here and went to the Guggenheim the exhibition was Italian Futurism, and it was awesome. Like, I’d only shown up for the architecture and then there was this properly interesting exhibition curling up through the museum with huge industrial scapes and planes and text based art. This year, on a day rainier than all the others, I went along to the American Folk Art Museum. I mostly went because it’s free and someone from work told me it was cool. 

Sans Titre by Carlo Zinelli
Sans Titre by Carlo Zinelli

It was cool. Properly, interestingly cool. The current exhibition is about Art Brut in America. Until stepping into the museum, I had never heard about Art Brut (let’s be honest, I am not an art officiando but just keen to sometimes potter around a gallery). Art Brut is my new favourite thing. 

Sometimes called ‘Outsider Art’, or maybe ‘Raw Art’ or ‘Rough Art’, Art Brut is art created outside the boundaries of ‘official’ artdom. It is made without the influence of an existing art scene, so was considered by some to be a more genuine form of expression. It’s interesting, especially, because so much of it is created by individuals in extreme mental states; a lot was collected from people who were living in psychiatric hospitals or who had diagnosed mental health issues, or had just been through extreme life circumstances. A lot of drawn on parcel paper or newspapers or whatever they could fnd. Quite a lot, too, is made by people who are self-taught. 

Mickens by Aloise Corbaz
Mickens by Aloise Corbaz

In the most pretentious segway in the history of food blogs, this is all about being self-taught. It is also, sometimes, about my mental state. This recipe, is about using what you can find. 

So I came back to Lillis’ flat and we made dinner. This recipe is based on a recipe from The Londoner, but adapted to be for us from her cupboards. It should be made with the things you have or want. I like it with bread, and eaten out of the pan, but you should serve how you want. I like it to be a bit spicy, ever so slightly sweet. I like it with a shedload of garlic. But you should do whatever you like. 

I like to eat it on the rare occasion I get to see my favourite friend, with a big mug of unseasonal mulled wine. 

The recipe below is a guidance. You can use whatever meat, whatever cheese, whatever veg you like. It will be good. Do whatever you like. 

I have one photo of it (above), after we’d eaten most of it (I forgot to put the SD card in my camera, like a food blogging pro). But that’s fine, in the spirit of Art Brut, make something and make it outside of the boundaries of this recipe. Have a go. 

Spicy, Saucy, Sausagey Sharing Eggs
Serves 2
A guideline for a saucy, meat filled thing to dip things in. Or eat with a spoon.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. Garlic, minced or crushed (I used about 8 cloves)
  2. A little oil
  3. Some meat, preferably already cooked (I used Lamb Merguez Sausages, but have used chorizo before), probably sliced
  4. A red bell pepper, chopped to chunks of whatever size pleases you
  5. A big tin of tomatoes (mine was about 750g, I think, because America does massive tins)
  6. A teaspoon or two of honey
  7. A good shake of dried coriander
  8. A very, very generous amount of black pepper
  9. A handful wee plum tomatoes, cut in half - or smaller, as you wish
  10. Two eggs - maybe more for more than 2 people or if you really like eggs
  11. Feta, or any other cheese you feel would work
  12. A few big hunks of sourdough bread, toasted, to serve
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil until shimmering. Cook the meat a little and the garlic until fragrant.
  2. Add the pepper and cook a minute more.
  3. Tip in the tomatoes and splodge in the honey. Stir.
  4. Shake in the coriander and the pepper.
  5. Bring the a boil then reduce to a simmer. Leave for 5 - 10 minutes to reduce. I like this quite thick so do sometimes give it longer.
  6. Chuck in the plum tomatoes.
  7. Break an egg into the mixture. Repeat. Repeat until you have used all the eggs you want. Do not stir any more, let them cook. They may need several minutes. Longer if you don't like them runny.
  8. Throw on some feta, leave a minute.
  9. Serve in the pan, eat with bread and the very best company.
Adapted from The Londoner
Adapted from The Londoner
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/