New Resolutions……

Happy New Year! 
I know its February-where did January go? January’s often a month that drags but this year my feet hardly touched the ground, with work, family commitments and the shared stresses of my daughters mock exams. One certainty in the New Year, is the threat of the common cold. I’ve made it my mission this month to eat super healthily, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of fresh air. It cant be good to be inside all of the time, even when its a bit chilly. So far, I’ve managed to ‘dodge the bullet’ and remained ‘cold’ free.
I’ve also been hoping for some snow. I love the way it’s so bright and muffles the sounds of the street. We had a brief flurry recently, but sadly it didn’t settle, still, there’s always next year.
Soup is the perfect thing to have when it is really cold outside. I have this romantic vision of clutching a mug of soup, standing outside in the snow. To date I’ve yet to do that, but maybe next time we have a winter wonderland I will.
Summertime is my favourite time of year, and I really love all the sunshine foods that available, but I don’t just confine them to the summer, and so on a dull grey February day, of which there is usually plenty, I make this colourful soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil Puree (serves 4 generously)
1.8kg ripe tomatoes (you need to feel them!), halved
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 medium onions, sliced finely
4 sticks of celery, sliced
1 medium head of fennel, sliced
1/2 fresh chilli, deseeded (more if you like it fiery)
2 tsp tomato puree
2 tsp honey
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper

Basil Puree
60g fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat the grill.
  • Place the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.
  • Grill until soft and darkening at the edges.
  • 
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.
  • Heat the oil and then add the garlic, herbs and the remaining vegetables.
  • Cook until the vegetables start to soften and then transfer to a roasting tin or baking dish and roast for 30 minutes until soft.
  • 
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  • 
Blend until smooth along with the grilled tomatoes, tomato puree, honey and lemon juice, until it is a smooth pouring consistency, adding water if needed.
  • Sieve the mixture to separate the pulp.
  • Heat gently and season to taste.
  • Garnish with a swirl of basil puree.

To make the basil puree

If you have a mini blender, puree the basil with the salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
If not use a pestle and mortar, crushing up the basil with the salt first before and the rest of the ingredients.

Hey Pesto!

I always buy fresh herbs for recipes, but end up throwing most of them out. Occasionally I buy herbs in pots, but me and plants do not go together, My father over the years has given me plants, in hope that I will look after them, but because they don’t talk and tell me they’re thirsty, all of them have hit the dust. Sorry Dad. Most people would be delighted to be given a beautiful orchid. Not me. I just know how it’s going to end, and it won’t be pretty.
I did however buy a basil plant because there weren’t any little packets available in the supermarket. I didn’t end up making the dish I had planned, or did I just forget to garnish something (something I’ve done too many times when we’ve had friends over for dinner!) – I can’t remember. Anyway, I still had the basil plant. I really looked after it, feeding it regularly with sparkling water (which was just due to convenience initially; there was a half used bottle in the kitchen and it poured well!). Basil (by this time, I was forming a bond) really liked the water and I could almost sense its delight every time I watered it. The leaves became large and lush and I knew that I was going to have to use its harvest pretty soon. Hmm, what should I make? Pesto, of course!

Pesto– makes 125ml

25g Pine nuts
40g Basil leaves
25g Grated Parmesan
75ml olive oil
1 garlic clove

  • Cook the pine nuts in a small pan over a low heat until golden. Give the pan a good shake from time to time, and don’t take your eye off the ball! Burnt pine nuts aren’t nice.
  •  Pop the basil, Parmesan, garlic in a food processor.
  • Add the roasted pine nuts and blend.
  • Add the olive oil and blend again.
  • It’s that simple.