Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Orange, Carrot and Mint Soup with Gooseberry and Sage Focaccia

Good evening friends! My posts have become rather more sporadic of late. In fact, I think I began my last post in the same vein, so sorry to be a bore. However, my attentions are currently being drawn to another food related project, the details of which I shall disclose in due course. It's involving quite a few evenings spent researching, creating Pinterest boards for reference, and creating a menu, which is incredibly exciting and I promise I will give more details when the time is right.

For tonight though, I'm sharing with you a lovely soup recipe from my old faithful, BBCGoodFood. I actually chose this as an accompaniment to a recipe from River Cottage Fruit Everyday; Gooseberry and Sage Focaccia. We went camping last weekend, and the campsite on which we stayed had a pick-your-own attached to it, so Sunday morning was spent dressed up in full waterproofs, picking gooseberries and strawberries in the mizzle, filling our punnets to the brim. I was determined to pick goseberries since I don't recall ever actually having eaten one, but I have a fair few gooseberry recipes in books I've acquired in the last couple of years, so I was determined to brave their spiky weapons. I ended up with a lot, and this was my first recipe choice. I think I just wanted to make something quick and simple that wouldn't alter their natural taste too much.

I'm very much for lots of different flavours in a dish, and complementing flavours with one another, but this focaccia recipe really showcased the simplicity of the gooseberries and was also very tasty!

I had to prepare the dough a couple of hours in advance to allow it time to prove sufficently. This recipe required easy-blend yeast, as opposed to the dried active yeast which I've been using so much lately, and the time it takes to visibly rise is noticably longer. I'm pretty sure this is quite a standard recipe for focaccia, so whilst not wanting to steal HFW's recipe, I feel happy to tell you that the dough ingredients comprise:

500g strong white bread flour
1 tsp easy-blend yeast
A large tsp salt (10g is actually specified)
3tbsp olive oil
350ml warm water

Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl, add the warm water and the olive oil, bringing together with a wooden spoon or your hands, and either knead for ten minutes on a well floured worktop, or throw it in a stand mixer with a dough hook attached and knead for five minutes, which I would thoroughly recommend as this dough is sticky in the extreme!

Transfer the kneaded dough to an oiled bowl and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Whilst the dough is proving, prepare the soup. The recipe can be found here, and can I really recommend it for a very easy and low-on-ingredient soup. The core ingredients are just carrot, onion and garlic, obviously with stock and a couple of other things; what I mean is, it doesn't involve peeling a ton of vegetables! As usual, please refer to the original recipe page for full list of ingredients and method.

 So, throw a chunk of butter into a deep-sided frying pan and allow to gently melt while you prepare the carrots, onion and garlic. 

Once these are ready, add to the pan, stir in so all the veg is nicely coated in the butter, then cover with a lid and cook gently for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the veg is cooking, prepare the stock, ready to add once the veg is soft enough.

Add stock, bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes. I like the detail of simmering it partially uncovered, as it allows sufficient liquid to evaporate off so as to thicken the soup, whilst keeping it sufficiently liquidy to blend to a pleasing consistency.

The great thing about making a soup and a bread for dinner is that you can prepare the soup in advance as it can easily sit in the pan for a little while and simply be reheated at the right moment. I used the time my soup was simmering to prepare the gooseberries for the focaccia and to press the dough into an oven pan ready for a further half hour rise, as the first prove ending up co-inciding with the beginning of the simmering time. Don't feel restricted to gooseberries by any means. HFW makes some delicious recommendations, which I'm going to let him keep to himself. What I'd recommend is any fruit that is reasonably robust and won't completely fall to pieces when heated. I'm going to suggest apple with a scattering of flaked almonds, and maybe even a few sultanas poked into the dough! (Ahem, this may not be the best accompaniment to carrot and orange soup, though it may bring a fruit-salad element...)

There is no need to knock back this dough, just tip it from the proving bowl into the baking tin and scrape the remains in afterwards with a flat-bladed knife. HFW recommends scattering some polenta or cornmeal into the tray before adding the dough to give it a crispy base.

Going back to the soup. Now the recipe specifies straining the solids out of the soup before blending to make it luxuriously smooth and silky. Please (unless you really want to) don't bother with this step. My blender isn't particulary powerful or top of the range, but it blended the solids mixture to a beautifully smooth consistency without the need for any of that faffing around. I also have a feeling my two and four year olds wouldn't have been particularly impressed at that unnecessary detail! So just go ahead and pour the full contents of the saucepan into your blender and give it a good, long blast. (NB. I don't usually embrace this attitude, but for this particular recipe I did feel this detail was needless for my requirements.)

Also, since you have the blender out, why not just pour the orange juice in and blend, rather than stirring it into the soup once it's been returned to the saucepan? A small detail for you though: one orange does not yield 125ml of juice. More like 50ml. So don't use this particular photo for reference, as if you want the orange taste to be stronger you'll probably need 2 and a half oranges.

At this point, I just prepared the mint, returned the soup to the pan, added the mint and left it until we were ready to eat, at which point I warmed it up again. It was only around half an hour later as the focaccia was now ready to prepare for the oven.

Basically, you need around 20 gooseberries (I used 17!) and the same number of sage leaves. You simply place a gooseberry on a leaf and press them together into the dough which was a really enjoyable process. Sorry about the gooseberry-and-dough photo overload, I just love the contrast between them and think they actually photographed really beautifully, something which I cannot usually say for photos which appear here.

The focaccia goes into a pre-heated oven to bake for 10 minutes, before the temperature is reduced and it continues to bake for a further 15 minutes. I set the oven to fan 200C, before turning it down to 180C, sligtly lower than specified, but it came out very pleasantly coloured.

After warming the soup, I served it with a swirl or double cream and the loaf, and it went down very well indeed. Big Tonju, who is rather choosy when it comes to soup, absolutely devoured it, and we all loved the bread.

I do not usually have my phone at the dinner table, just to clarify - I was just snapping a shot for instagram!

I would definitely recommend this soup, especially for the dreary British summertime we're currently experiencing. Sometimes soup is just what's needed for a bit of comfort (ok, more than sometimes!) and this one is ideal for the season as it's not heavy. It went really nicely with this focaccia too, as the gooseberries were fresh and tangy, and obviously seasonal, so it all came together very nicely. So if you're looking for some homemade, light but comforting fodder, look no further. Neither of these recipes are challenging, but they are tasty, and if pressing gooseberries and sage leaves into raw dough and seeing the beautifully pleasing contrast of elements doesn't make you feel slightly happy, I don't know what will!

xxx Sam

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