Tag Archive for: Soup

Under the radar? That’s definitely Abruzzo. It’s the poor touristic relation of Toscana, Umbria, Piemonte and yet this predominantly rural Italian region has so much to offer. Three National Parks, one Regional Park and several natural reserves are home to an unprecedented 75 per cent of Europe’s flora and fauna species. The slow food on offer, washed down with the local soft Montepulciano reds, is reason enough to visit the scores of  ancient hilltop villages.

Take lentils. The medieval town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio holds a festival every September in their honour, the Sagra delle Lenticchie, and is campaigning to win them DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) status alongside such iconic foodstuffs as Parmesan, Balsamic vinegar of Modena, San Marzano tomatoes and the like.

I source my Abruzzo lentils (via the wonderful Ham and Cheese Company in Bermondsey) from the Casino di Caprafico 100km south east which accesses the same scrubby terrain that somehow brings out the iron-rich best in these tiny legumes. Easily the equal of France’s acclaimed Puy lentils. The same deeply traditional operation also yields my go-to new season olive oil. The head honcho is Giacomo Santoleri. Let Ham and Cheese Co tell his story:

“Giacomo Santoleri was an engineer before turning to agriculture 20 years ago. His Caprafico farm is on the eastern slopes of the Maiella National Park, close to the town of Guardiagrele and there he has chosen to grow a range of heritage grains to mill for bread and pasta. Pasta from his barley and emmer (farro) is a long way from the uniform white mono flavour of pasta made from high yielding wheat varieties and it is also much healthier; emmer is known to be good for the heart and immune system. It is high in antioxidants, fibre and protein. Like many heritage grains the plants are strong and sturdy and can be grown without the need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides.”

And the Caprafico lentils?

“Giacomo grows ancient grains and pulses on the Caprafico plain in Abruzzo. These lentils are sown at the end of March on poor, chalky soil and they thrive in the harsh mountain temperatures of the Maiella National Park. Surviving these adverse conditions gives the lentils lots of flavour

“The lentils ripen at different times depending on their altitude but the majority are harvested during August. Harvesting takes place by hand because the lentils grow so close to the ground that mechanised harvesting can destroy up to 40 per cent of the harvest. Inside the cloth bag are 500gs of the most beautiful, speckled lentils. Cook them with a carrot, an onion and a stick of celery then stir them – still firm – into some softened dice of the same vegetables. Top them with a sausage or poached egg.”

The form the perfect base for toothsome New Year’s Day treat, Cotechino, sausagey subject of one of my Italian Food Trail pieces, but with my latest lentil batch I have wilfully ditched seasonality.

Just as summer is almost convincing Yorkshire it is Abruzzo I’ve assembled in my garden the ingredients for a decidedly autumnal Lentil and Chestnut Soup, loosely adapted from a Rachel Roddy recipe. It was an excuse to use up two vacuum packs of hulled chestnuts that had lain too long in the store cupboard. Plus I had an excess of chicken broth in the freezer and a surfeit of herbs from the garden.

Lentil and Chestnut Soup


4 tbsp good olive oil

1 onion,

1 carrot

1 stick celery,

100ml Noilly Prat

3 tomatoes, skinned and diced

Ready cooked chestnuts, broken up

2 litres of chicken broth/water

Parsley, chervil, dill, marjoram or other mixed fresh herbs.

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper, to taste


In a large pan heat olive oil over a low flame, add chestnuts, stir for a minute then add vermouth and let it bubble for a couple of minutes.

Rinse the lentils and add to a separate pan with chopped veg, herbs and stock water mixture. Simmer for an hour or so over a low heat until the lentils are tender Unlike red lentils they keep their shape). Remove bayleaf. Take out half the mix and blend roughly before returning to the lentil pan along with the chestnuts and a splash of good extra virgin olive oil. Caprafico would be perfect.

The present of some corn cobs “as corny as Kansas in August”, well super fresh off the stalk, was a Proustian madeleine moment, albeit my Memory Lane was Route 66 through another US state – Arizona – and my emblematic longing was for a swirling, ‘tricoleur’ soup. Created bizarrely by a chef originally from Hartlepool.

The flashback sent me scuttling to the kitchen to recreate it, but first some context. It was exactly a decade ago. The latest leg of an epic road trip was from Sante Fe westward to the Grand Canyon. We had skirted Albuquerque on Interstate Highway 40 – the flat, straight blacktop that was supposed to demote the legendary Route 66 to a mere backroad. But, of course, the much-covered song and the iconic image live on, albeit a mite cheesily.

Standing on the corner that statue homage to an Eagles song.  Image: Tpaairman – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Altogether now: “If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66!” When journeyman songwriter Bobby Troup (previous hit Snootie Little Cutie) penned this ditty in 1946 did he ever imagine its future mileage?

In the April I had stood on Adams Street, Chicago, in front of the Arts Institute, starting point of the 2,500 mile highway which runs south then west all the way to Los Angeles. Did I ever imagine three months later I’d be rejoining it in a place called Winslow, Arizona. Cue another song, another legend.

First track on The Eagles’ eponymous 1972 debut album was Take It Easy. One line,  ‘Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona’ put the town on the map. A girl in a flatbed Ford slows down to take a look at a horny hitchhiker who dreams that her sweet love might save him. I don’t expect it ended well… but a legacy remains.

On the corner of Kinsley Avenue and 2nd Street on Route 66 you can pose with a statue of the hitchhiker, backed by a mural of the lusted-after Ford girl… oh and across the road buy a tee-shirt in the gift shop.

We decamped to Winslow’s memorial of better times – the Posada Hotel, a wonderfully elegant, restored 1930s hacienda, pet project of prolific artist Tina Mion and her husband. He artwork and a plethora of local craft fills what was the last great railway hotel built along the Santa Fe line. Amtrak trains still thunder through. We lunched in the Turquoise Room restaurant where much-travelled, Hartlepool-born chef John Sharpe had won huge acclaim, even a James Beard nomination, for his interpretations of South Western cuisine and Slow Food. 

John retired a couple of years ago, but his kitchen team and the core menu remain in place. I’ve just checked. The chillies, tomatillos and tamales stand-up for the South Western high desert heritage alongside some big, big flavours. One $40 main combines crispy, fried quail with an orange Oaxaca sauce, Colorado farm-raised venison medallion with a black currant brandy sauce, a chipotle tamale topped with a pork, venison and bison chili. Finished with a fresh vegetable medley.

I’m glad I don’t have to tackle that challenge. The object of my desire is a black and yellow emblem in a bowl with a scrawled red pepper ‘signature’. Two soups, spicy black bean and creamy corn. 

Exquisite. As was Winslow itself – a sleepy, dream America heirloom strip. Just the plc to take it easy. 

Black bean soup


500g black beans; ½ tspb ancho chili powder; 1tsp ground cumin; ½tsp oregano; ½tsp marjoram; ½tsp ground coriander; ½tsp ground white pepper; 1 bay leaf; 15g diced

white onions; 1tsp salt; 1tbsp chopped garlic;  2tbsp unsalted butter; 1litre water.


Wash and soak the beans in cold water overnight. Place beans and the rest of the ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1½ hours or until beans are tender. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Cool the beans and place them in a blender and blend until smooth. Dilute with water as needed. The soup can be made a day in advance.

Sweet Cream of Corn Soup 


1kg corn; 350g sliced white onions; 50g butter; ½litre water; 750ml heavy cream, 1tsp salt


Find the freshest corn you can and cut it off the cob making sure you scrape the cob to extract all of the milk. This is the sweetest part of the corn. Sauté the onions in a thick bottomed pan until soft but not brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Place in a blender and puree till smooth. If the corn is not sweet add a little sugar. This may be done ahead of time and kept warm in a double boiler.

Red Pepper Stripe 

250ml soured cream; 60g roasted peppers; 1tsp chipotle peppers; salt and pepper to taste. Blend together.

To serve

Due to the starch in both soups, they will thicken as they sit. It is important that they be of the same consistency so you may need to adjust them by adding a small amount of hot water. You want to serve the soup in the same bowl, with the bean on one side and corn on the other. So, place the soups side by side on the counter. Using a separate soup ladle for each soup, scoop a ladle of each and pour into the bowl at the same time, and at the same speed. 

As a garnish squeeze the Red Pepper Stripe on top. Best served with cornbread fresh from the skillet.

Damn it. I’ve never been in Kent on St Philibert’s Day to join in the green nutting and maybe never will. August 20, traditional start of the cobnut picking season, has come and gone again. ‘’Garden of England’ or ‘One Big Lorry Park’, whatever, in late summer the county produces one of my favourite foodstuffs, the creamiest of fresh nuts, And hops, to which I am also no stranger, but the ale enhancers are another vivid green seasonal story.

Actually, seventh century serial abbey founder Saint Philibert of Jumièges is a bit of a red herring here. It just so happens his feast day coincides with the optimum cobnut ripening moment. He’s not quite in the same league as St Swithins, the patron saint of 40 day weather apps. Still Philibert’s name lives on in the word filbert, like cob nut a confusing variant of hazelnut.

Manchester food historian Dr Neil Buttery makes a good fist of explaining the similarities and differences of the trio in his British Food History blog. He also provides a delicious recipe for Kentish Cobnut Cake, featuring preserved stem ginger and honey.

Neil is always scrupulous about source material and this time references an entry in the magisterial The Taste of Britain by Catherine Brown and Laura Mason (the Leeds-based writer and researcher, who sadly died this year). I couldn’t resist dipping in again. Region by region, this details 400 foodstuffs that might be defined as ‘longstanding’ (in commercial exploitation for more than three generations), linked to ‘terroir’ and distinctive. The Kentish Cobnut sits proudly between the Grenadier Apple and the Leveller Gooseberry. With the totally distinctive Medlar fruit just over the page.

The green cobnut is a thing of beauty as it approaches the St Philibert’s Day of reckoning

I learn that the hazelnut (Coryllus avellana), dating back to Neolithic times, is indigenous to the whole of the UK and has been cultivated since at least the 16th century. Cobnuts grew wild. Kids picked them to use as an earlier form of conkers.

Diarist John Evelyn, in his tree treatise Sylva, declared “They crop more plentifully if the ground be somewhat moist, dankish and mossie, as in the fresher bottoms, and the sides of hills, hoults, and in the hedgerows.“

The word cob originates from the Middle English cobbe, referring to a ’round object’, and filbert derives from the German Vollbart which refers to a ‘full beard’ that the husk of a hazelnut resembles. It covers the entire nut, while the cobnut is more exposed.

In Kent they were always grown in mixed husbandry with hops, apples and cherries in orchards called plats. The nut known as the Kentish Filbert was white skinned. In the19th century it was supplanted by an improved variety called Lambert’s Filbert, soon to be renamed the Kentish Cobnut. I told you it was confusing. By early 1900s there were 7,000 acres, mostly in Kent, given over to hazelnuts – before dwindling to the current handful. New orchards are now being planted, testimony to the nutritional value of nuts in our quest for wellbeing. Cobnuts are rich in Vitamin E and calcium.

Valley Veg is a lifeline to the seasons – mushrooms are just as much an autumnal staple as the Kentish cobnuts

All this back story is the perfect preparation for the bowl of Kentish Cobnuts I’m unsheathing and shelling in the garden (it can get messy, especially when you soak the nuts in water to ease the process). I just feel lucky to have them. Thanks to Valley Veg (above), which pops up in Mytholmroyd along the valley every Saturday morning with more, much more, than the usual fruit and veg suspects.

You can, of course, order online from producers, addresses of which can be found on the Kentish Cobnuts Association website. The season is short (ending mid-October). Cobnuts are marketed fresh, not dried like most other nuts such as walnuts and almonds. At the beginning of the season the husks are green and the kernels moist and milky. Nuts harvested later on have brown shells and husks plus a fuller flavour and you might be able to keep them in the fridge until that nuttiest of times, Christmas.

I’m nibbling my lightly roasted  ‘nouveau’ nuts, freshly salted, with a glass of my favourite Palo Cortado sherry.

Besides baking the cake I plan to sprinkle crushed nuts onto a dish of baked salsify and Ogleshield cheese and onto an old favourite soup from The Ethicurean cookbook (Ebury Press, £25) that uses up our remaining courgettes. The restaurant operates from an original glasshouse built in 1901 as part of an estate in the Mendip Hills. The walled kitchen garden supplies the restaurant with grapes, greengages, apricots, beans, cabbages, herbs and much more.


1kg small firm courgettes, sliced into 2cm pieces; rapeseed oil; 500g onions finely sliced; 250g carrots finely sliced; 250g celery finely sliced; 1tsp salt plus more for final seasoning; 40g fresh cobnuts, chopped, then lightly toasted.

For the labneh: 500g Greek yoghurt; ½tsp salt; 1tbsp chopped marjoram; 1tbsp chopped oregano.

For the dressing: 85ml rapeseed oil; 50ml cider vinegar; 1tsp English mustard; ½tsp ground ginger; ¼tsp ground turmeric; 1tsp chopped mint.


Make the labneh a day in advance. Line a sieve with muslin and put the yoghurt in it, stirring in salt. Wrap into a bundle over a deep bowl to drain overnight. Next day discard the liquid. To make the dressing blend all the ingredients together.

Heat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Toss the courgettes with a little rapeseed oil, then spread on a roasting tin. Roast in oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a film of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and add onions carrots and celery; sweat for 10-15 minutes until tender. Stir so the veg doesn’t colour. Add roasted courgettes and sweat for 5 minutes longer. Add water to barely cover and bring to a simmer. Add salt and after five minutes blitz in a blender (in batches if necessary). If too thick for you, pas through a fine sieve to create a more velvety mouthfeel. Now season to taste, reheat gently and serve in bowls topped with a tablespoon of labneh, a scattering of chopped cobnuts and a drizzle of mustard dressing.