The last few months, I’ve been experimenting with a few classic favourites in my kitchen. It’s the right sort of weather for comforting soups, and though the cold season is nearly over (our garden has seen its first daffodil!), we’ve only days to go before mercurial March, so I doubt I will be putting my slow cooker away anytime soon.
Ticking off my ever-growing ‘Must-Try List’ of winter warmers has taken me a bit longer than I thought it would, but I’m glad to have (sort of) nailed a couple of them. Butternut Squash & Parmesan Soup is the least time-consuming, whereas Pea & Ham does require some overnight prep (unless you just use ham slices). However, regardless of which recipe you prefer, I’d recommend investing in a hand blender as it really makes the job so much easier. It doesn’t cost much…a decent one will set you back less than a tenner. In fact, the one I got from Tesco is only £6. The price might be bargain-basement, but it’s lasted a long time, and saved me from a great deal of hassle over the years.
Apologies in advance for not setting down specific quantities. I mostly eyeball measurements (except when baking) and it’s a method that’s rarely failed me, particularly with stews and soups…You’re not building a rocket, so barring a few caveats (which I will go into later), there really isn’t much that can go wrong here. Plus, this allows some flexibility, since you might be serving more people than I normally would.
Ok, here’s one of those provisos I mentioned just now – Start off with only a little water. Most of the ingredients will release their own juices as they cook, and the last thing you want to end up with is a thin watery mess. If that happens, you can sometimes correct it with flour, but that doesn’t always work. I usually just add a cup or two of water, and wait till after the blending stage before making adjustments to the amount of liquid, depending on how thick I want my soup to be.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH & PARMESAN SOUP
I’m starting with this one as it’s the more straightforward of the two. You literally throw all the ingredients in a pot (not including the cheese!), and when it starts boiling, turn the heat down and let it simmer until everything’s soft and mushy. This is when you whip out that blender, but first, remove the dried bay leaves.
Parmesan cheese can be quite strong, so I’d add it to the soup gradually (half a cup of the grated stuff to begin with) and taste as you go along. I like to grind in quite a lot of black pepper, but that’s optional. Most stock cubes already contain pepper anyway. If the consistency is too thick, add more water, or stock – chicken or veg, either is fine.
Keep blending till your soup is nice and creamy…and that’s pretty much it! Garnish with chopped parsley, and enjoy with some crusty rolls! 😋
PEA & HAM SOUP
I love gammon, so that’s what I’ve used here. Also, it will result in a chunkier soup. The trouble with gammon is it can be quite salty. Now that’s alright when you’re having the steaks with pineapple, but peas aren’t really sweet enough to act as a counter, so this means some faffing about is required.
Give the joint a good rinse before soaking it in water the night before. The next morning, chuck out that water, and yeap…you guessed it! Rinse and repeat. After soaking it three or four times (once per hour), your gammon should be ready for the pot.
I struggled to get hold of marrowfat peas, and if you find yourself in the same situation, don’t worry…just substitute with mushy peas (frozen or otherwise) as they’re basically the same thing. No one will know the difference.
As before, boil and simmer until all ingredients are soft, and the gammon is easy to pull apart. Shred or cut the meat into small pieces, remove the bay leaves, and then get to work with that blender! Top with a dollop of crème fraîche, some croutons, and it’s nom-nom-nom time!
Soups are so simple to make, especially with a slow cooker. They’re filling, nutritious, and generally inexpensive. I don’t even know why I used to buy them! Tinned soup might be cheap, but you don’t get a lot, and it’s never as satisfying as something homemade. Supermarkets also have a limited range, and the ones near me have not had any brand of Stilton & Broccoli in stock for ages. I’ve been craving that lately, so this might be next on the recipe cards for me. 😉