Creamy Broccoli and Fennel Soup with Cheddar, Gruyere and Crispy Onions

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Spring is here!  What a wondrous and renewing season it is.  Wait, that was a couple of weeks ago, Mother Nature seems to have other plans and has brought back the biting cold weather reminiscent of winter.  What a cruel, cruel, joke!  Yesterday I was so cold, with the wind and rain whipping outside of my window, all I craved was something warm to fill my belly.  So, soup was naturally a perfect choice for our dinner.

I remember when I tried Broccoli and Cheddar soup for the first time.  It was magical.  It was sublime.  It probably had no real broccoli OR cheddar in it.  I still love it though, but have now realized how easy and healthier it is to make at home.  My version has fewer calories too, because I swap full fat cream for 2% milk and a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it.  I added some fennel to make it sing, and I love topping soup with crispy things, mine with french fried onions, but you can use whatever your heart desires!  Silky, delicious, and filling, what more could you want?

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, chopped

2 tbsp of fresh fennel tops, chopped

1 small head of broccoli, chopped

1 cube vegetable stock

1 tsp salt

2 cups water

3 cups 2% milk

1 tbsp instant cornstarch

3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Crispy onions (or whatever you want)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel tops and broccoli, sauté for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Add the vegetable stock, salt, water and milk and lower heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Take off heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before processing.  Place soup in a blender and pulse, for less time if you want it chunky.  I wanted mine smooth, so I pulsed for about 45 seconds.

Return to stock pot, add the cornstarch and reheat for about 2 more minutes.  Add the cheeses and stir.  Serve into bowls and top with a little more cheese, crispy onions and freshly ground pepper.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

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Jamie Oliver’s Pukka Yellow Curry

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Let me tell you something.  Mr. Oliver makes a damn good curry.  I am in shock!!!  Most of the time, when I try Indian food recipes that aren’t from India, I get very, very disappointed.  This dish has now gone into my hall of fame of favorite curries.  It has a lovely sweetness to it, from the yellow peppers,  but just the right kick from the chillies.  I am happy I made enough for both my daughter and I to have leftovers tomorrow!  Unfortunately the hubs won’t be able to try, but he doesn’t like chickpeas anyway.

As I usually do, I tweaked the recipe here and there and added some store-bought curry paste I had in the pantry.  I will give you the recipe I made, but if you want to make it just like Jamie’s, you can find the recipe here.

Serves 4

4 chicken thighs

2 onions

4 garlic cloves

2 yellow peppers

1 thumb sized piece of ginger

1 cube chicken stock

1 jalapeño pepper

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp curry powder

2 tbsp mild curry paste

1 tbsp tomato paste

500ml of boiling water

400g canned chickpeas

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup basmati rice

Peel the onions, garlic and de-rib and de-seed the yellow peppers.  Cut into quarters, and add to a food processor and pulse until chopped.  Add the ginger, crumbled chicken stock cube, the jalapeño pepper, cilantro stems (reserve the leaves for later) ,spices and honey.  Pulse until you have a thick paste.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, add the chicken thighs, skin down, and cook for about 5 minutes, turn and cook another 5 minutes.  Put the chicken on a plate and reserve, lower the heat.  Add the curry paste and tomato purée, and cook, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes.  Add the pureed vegetables, and raise heat to medium, and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the boiling water, drained chickpeas and chicken thighs. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to make sure they are mixed well, cover and cook for about an hour, or until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated.

20 minutes before it is done, place the cup of Basmati rice in 2 cups of water, boil until all the liquid has evaporated.

Serve together, and if you have some Naan…..please use it.  You will be sopping up this curry!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese and Cilantro Vinaigrette

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When I had my restaurant in Barcelona, vacation was something that I had to do quickly and closely.  For me, the best place to make me relax and feel transported without travelling too far was Ibiza.  Ibiza is only 30 minutes by plane from Barcelona, but it is worlds apart.  It is what you make it, you can party all night and day, or you can relax with your family.  I chose the latter, obviously.  But one place I really loved and still do, is Jockey Club.  It is a beach bar restaurant, and my favorite thing to do is get there early, grab some beach chairs and spend all day lounging by the crystal clear waters, and listening to some fabulous music.  The food is pretty amazing, but I would always order their lentil salad with a bottle of Enate Rosado, a spanish Rosé wine.  I don’t get to go to Ibiza as often as I wish now, but I do try to recreate their lentil salad at home.  I change it often, but never their 3 key ingredients: black beluga lentils, bacon and cheese.  They use goat cheese, but you can substitute any soft cheese you have at home.  This salad is very quick and easy to make, but it is incredibly decadent, so if you serve it as an appetizer at a dinner party you can´t go wrong!  I personally love it, and tonight I used the veggies I had in my fridge.  You can substitute what you like, but this version is absolutely fantastic, I really really recommend you try it!  Also, you can omit the bacon and chicken stock if you are vegetarian, and it will still taste delicious.

Serves 4

1/2 cup black beluga lentils (or puy lentils if you can’t find these)

1 garlic clove, with skin

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small eggplant, cut in 1 inch cubes

1/2 small yellow pepper, cut into 1 inch dice

1/2 small green tomato, diced

1/4 cup bacon, sliced

2 tbsp blue cheese, crumbled

For the cilantro vinaigrette:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1 small bunch cilantro, minced

1 garlic clove, smashed and minced

1 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

6-7 leaves of Romaine lettuce or Frisee lettuce, washed and chopped

In a medium stock pot, place the chicken stock, bay leaf and garlic to boil.  When boiling, add the lentils and cook for 15 minutes.  Strain and set aside to cool.

In a large sauté pan, over high heat, add the olive oil.  Fry the bacon and eggplant until golden, about 7-10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Strain over paper towels.

Mix all the ingredients for the vinaigrette, shake well.

In a large bowl, place the lentils, bacon, eggplant, yellow pepper, tomato and blue cheese.  Add about 2 tbsp of the vinaigrette, mix well.

To serve, place the lettuce in a salad bowl, then top with the lentils.  Drizzle half a tbsp over the lettuce, enjoy!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla