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
● 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.