Recipe: Veg soup with basil croutons

By Judi Rose, December 30, 2008

Whether you are counting calories or food miles, January is the perfect time to savour local vegetables.

In these frosty months, roots rule, along with frost-resistant greens such as leek and celery. Carrots, onions and potatoes — which grow below ground, safe from the ravages of British weather — are among the pleasures of winter cooking. Sweet onions are wonderful simply sautéed in a little olive oil, adding a rich, round flavour to winter soups. Add some legumes — like haricot beans — and herbs and you have a delicious and nutritious meal.

This lovely soup makes the most of British winter produce, yet with its Mediterranean flavours, is a cheerful reminder of warmer days to come.

Serves 6-8. Keeps 2 days under refrigeration. Freeze 3 months.

● 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
● 2 medium onions or one very large one, finely chopped
● 1 large potato (225g, 8oz), peeled and cut in 1 cm (½in) dice
● 1 fat stick of celery, diced
● White and pale green part of a medium-sized leek, finely sliced
● 1.7 litres (3 pints) hot vegetable stock
● 1 teasp sugar
● 225g (8oz) fresh or frozen green beans, cut in 1 cm (½in) lengths
● One 225g can haricot beans, drained
● 2 rounded tbsp double concentrated tomato purée or sun-dried tomato paste
● 25g (1 oz) vermicelli broken into short lengths, or tiny pasta shapes
● 2 tbsp shredded basil leaves

For the croutons
● Generous handful fresh basil leaves
● 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
● 4 medium slices white bread, cut into 1 cm (½in) cubes

For serving
● Grated Parmesan

For the croutons
(Which can be made up to two days ahead.)
● Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F, Gas 4).
● Purée the basil and oil together, adding a generous pinch of sea salt and 10 grinds black pepper (a mini food processor is ideal for this).
● Toss the bread with this mixture, then spread on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes, shaking the tray once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and golden.

For the soup
● In a large (2.25 litre/4 pint) soup pan, gently sauté the onion in the oil, covered, until soft and golden. Add the potatoes, celery and leek with the stock and 1 teasp salt.
● Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Now add the green beans, haricot beans and tomato purée and simmer for a further ten minutes.
● Add the pasta, simmer for 3 minutes, then add 20 grinds black pepper and a pinch of sugar. Just before serving add the basil leaves. Serve with the croutons.

Last updated: 4:56pm, December 30 2008