Leek and potato soup

All home made leek and potato soup with croutons

This is authentic Team Work™: my partner prepared and cooked the leeks and potatoes, and I puréed them and prepared the croutons! 😜

Ingredients

  • Leeks
  • Potatoes
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Butter, olive oil or coconut oil

Preparation

  1. Peel the potatoes, trim off the ugly bits in the leeks and possibly remove the outer leaf, as it tends to be quite sad looking. Wash everything thoroughly, to remove soil.
  2. Slice everything in quite small pieces—the smaller, the faster they’ll cook.
  3. Put in a pot with water and lots of pepper.
  4. Bring pot to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes or an hour (until the potatoes start to break apart).Leek and potatoes
  5. For the croutons, I used dry bread left overs. Instead of throwing it away, I diced it and saved it in a box. So when I need croutons, I just put them in the pan with a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and fry them, tossing them in the pan until they’ve absorbed the oil (this also makes them not be hard like rocks anymore).

    Croutons-to-be in the pan
    In case you’re curious these croutons are made of rye and cranberry bread, which we got from Fabrique, our favourite London bakery right now.
  6. I used a blender to purée the potatoes and leeks, but if you’d prefer a bit more of texture you could use a fork or a potato masher accessory to roughly mash them.Pureed leek and potatoes
  7. Add butter (or your substitution of choice) to taste, mix well, and correct for salt after the butter is well mixed–specially if the butter is salted! Don’t add salt before. Adding some fat is essential because otherwise this soup can feel quite thin and insipid.
  8. Finally, serve with the croutons. And enjoy!

All home made leek and potato soup with croutons

This is so good for cold days 😃

Options

You can make this vegan if you choose a vegetal oil instead of butter.

It might be interesting to experiment with other spices instead of just pepper: perhaps nutmeg? some moderately hot chilli?

My partner was really excited to experiment with the rice cooker, because it has a soup-making function, so we used that instead. With this method, it takes way longer to cook the soup: 2 hours! and that’s even if we added hot water to start with. But it can be programmed in advance and it has a “keep warm” setting, so it’s nice to find the soup waiting for you when you arrive home.

The fastest option would be to use a pressure cooker, in which case we would be done in about 15 minutes. You’d put everything on the cooker, add water to cover, close the lid, bring to pressure, reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, then turn the heat off, wait for the pressure to come down (or release it manually, depending on how hungry you are) so you can open the lid, and then continue from step 5. I so love pressure cookers! 💨😍

Roasted artichokes

Artichokes in salad
Artichokes in salad

We sourced a few good looking artichokes at Natoora and I couldn’t resist turning them into a lightweight dinner! This style of dinner is very common around my home area as it won’t have you digesting heavy stuff for hours, and so you can sleep well.

Preparation

  1. First chop their stems, and also a few of the outside leaves (as they’re hard, have spiky bits and that’s not nice). Then cut them in halves:

    Artichoke sliced in half
    Artichoke sliced in half
  2. Put them all on a pan, add some oil and salt, and set them to a high heat
  3. Wait until they got some colour in one side. Then turn them around and brown them on that side too. If they’re cooking too fast and you fear they’ll burn, reduce the heat!
  4. Add some water – about a centimeter tall, cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let the artichokes soften in the water
    Artichokes roasting in the pan
  5. Once the water has evaporated, check the artichokes are soft (I just “lightly” punch them with a fork). If not, you can either add a bit more water and repeat the process, or keep them on a very low heat for longer.
  6. Done! Ready to eat!

In this case I served them with some escarole salad, tomatoes and cucumber, and just a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is way more filling that you’d imagine, because the artichokes are so full of flavour, and the other vegetables were really high quality so it was a really sensational dish 🙂

Other ways to serve them:

  • with toasted bread and olive oil. I would prefer wholemeal baguette style bread, but any good bread could work.
  • with an omelette (possibly a simple egg one)
  • with pan fried chicken breasts

Rambling time

Escaroles seem quite uncommon in the UK, but I grew up eating them during winter months, and I miss them, so I was very excited that Puntarelle & co had them in stock. The taste is quite different from your every day lettuce: peppery, spicy, a bit sour. I figured liking them is certainly an acquired taste because my very English partner didn’t like them at all! 😆

In the same vein, finding good artichokes in London’s markets is quite the challenge. Forget supermarkets—I’ve never, ever, been able to find artichokes which were not weeeeell past their best times.

But it’s hard to tell from the outside because to know for sure you’d need to slice open the artichoke and see if it is still a bud, all green and undeveloped, and it has not started to turn into the bloom before the flower (which is what artichokes are, after all).

One way to test this is to gently squeeze the artichokes and see how they respond. They should be flexible; if they’re stiff it’s too late. But sometimes it’s hard to say…

Another way of testing is to use your nose: fresh artichokes have a very ‘green’ and characteristic smell. But this doesn’t work with supermarkets because the produce has been in a fridge for so long it just doesn’t smell of anything anymore. And shops tend to be cold as well, which doesn’t help with releasing aromas. So you could only use this in fresh markets.

When the flower develops, the “core” of the artichoke turns into stems and it’s absolutely vile to eat because it’s like eating spiky hairs that make a ball at the end of your throat. Urghhh. It’s also incredibly difficult to slice, as it hardens. I’ve lost count of the amount of artichokes I’ve had to throw away after I tried to salvage some of their contents 😱

It is a complex problem that feeds itself:

  1. They are still a ‘weird’ vegetable and the demand is pretty low, so the food chain doesn’t prioritise getting good quality artichokes fast to the UK. And then they spend way too long in the shelves
  2. When people buy them and find a disgusting vile old artichoke they never buy them again, and so the demand keeps being low
  3. Back to step one 😭

Still, I keep trying to find decent ones, because they can be so delicious!

Amusingly enough in Spain you can not only easily find artichokes, but even the stalks of the plant, called pencas, which are eaten in stews and salads. Nothing goes to waste!

Blood oranges

We got these from Natoora at the Spa Terminus market. They’re Sicilian and so very nicely sweet and citric!

Blood oranges
Blood oranges

I must have been five years old the first time I encountered a blood orange “in the wild”. I was tasked with helping to make orange juice at home, and blood oranges are not always very obviously bloody from the outside. When I cut the orange and I found the “blood” I immediately panicked, thinking I had cut myself!

I started yelling and calling for help. Obviously my mum was very alarmed, but she quickly determined that it was all fine; I hadn’t cut myself and the orange was “normal”, but I still drank that juice with lots of suspicions 🤔

Borreta

Borreta
Borreta

This is a very traditional winter stew from the Serra de Mariola area—a  crossroads of mountain ranges on the edge between Valencia and Alicante provinces.

Not even a century ago, this area was not very well communicated: picture uphill and downhill winding roads perched on the deep cut carved by a seasonal river over centuries, or a really strenuous hike uphill to then downhill and uphill and downhill again, a few times (if you didn’t like the other road, per chance).

So the natives of this particular corner of Spain developed very unique and distinctive signature dishes. It’s quite unusual for many of them to be featured in restaurants outside of their birthplace, let alone international restaurants which are more keen on popular dishes such as paella or tapas.

But they are so tasty, comforting… and cheap!

This recipe is adapted from the recipe in the “La cuina de la serra de Mariola” book (by Mila Valls and Ana Valls), which is a fantastic collection of local recipes and anecdotes.

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Four cloves of garlic
  • One onion
  • A medium sized potato
  • A red pepper (or dry pepper if you can find it)
  • ~100 gr of fresh cod
  • A good bunch of Swiss chard (or spinach, up to your preferences and availability-the traditional is Spinach)
  • Two eggs
  • Olive oil

Preparation

This dish is very easy to make: we will slice and chop ingredients, add them to a deep pot. Then we will add water and bring it to a boil. But let’s not anticipate…

Chop the onion somewhat finely:

Chopped onions
Chopped onions

And same for the pepper. Actually, the tradition is to use dried red pepper, of the sort you would use to preserve the summer harvest so you could use it when the cold weather came, but funnily I haven’t been able to find them yet in London (I have a hunch they might sell them in Spanish deli shops). Maybe ‘sweet chilli’ could work, but I haven’t chanced the risk of making my borreta taste Mexican! So I’m just using sweet red pepper.

Chopped red pepper
Chopped red pepper

Then peel the garlic cloves. I didn’t slice them because I wanted their flavour in the stew, but I didn’t want to eat them. So the idea is to remove them once cooked, but before serving (except if you forget like me and end up serving your spouse a bowl with three garlic cloves 😅).

Peeled garlic cloves
Peeled garlic cloves

Peel the potato and dice it. Not too big not too thin either… somehow like cubes, so they don’t break too much when cooking.

Peeled and diced potato
Peeled and diced potato

Wash the chard—wash it a lot! They often have so much soil on it!

The best way I have found to clean the chard well is to submerge it in water in a bowl and let it dissolve the soil and etc, then give it a good shake, drain, and wash again (maybe a few times, until you see no soil or sand come off).

Chopped Swiss Chard
Chopped Swiss Chard

Then wash and add a tiny little bit of cod to the pot. This is a 100g fillet:

Cod fillet
Cod fillet

This fillet came with skin (on the other side, which is why you can’t see it). I tried removing it before cooking but it’s impossible–it’s just too attached. The solution is to cook it with the skin, and remove it with something sort of blunt, like a spoon, when it starts to come off. Then it might break down further, giving the soup a great ‘fishy’ taste.

Once all the above ingredients are in the pot, add enough water to cover all of them and then a bit more, depending on how much you like soups. This is meant to be a soupy stew. Add a dash of olive oil. Cover with a lid, and bring to a boil.

When it starts boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Sometime around 15 minutes is a good time to check if the fish skin is coming off, as described above.

When things are pretty cooked: potato pieces are breaking down nicely, the fish is visually hard to spot, etc, it’s time to do two more things:

  1. check for salt, correcting if needed, and the…
  2. add the eggs!

Crack one egg per person, and carefully place it over the stew. Perhaps bring the heat up to boil them faster! Here they are right after being placed on the stew:

Eggs dropped on the stew
Eggs dropped on the stew

And here they are after cooking and setting. The food is ready!

Borreta, ready to eat!
Borreta, ready to eat!

To serve, use deep bowls. Take the eggs first, then “top up” with as much stew as you want.

Random trivia

Borreta means ‘fluff’. I want to think it is because of the fish being dissolved and adding some ‘fluff’ to the dish.

Each time I ask for fillets like this at the fishmongers they ask me something along the lines of “is this ALL you wanted?” or “this is just A SMALL FILLET, you know?”. Yes, yes, I know. I just want a tiny bit of flavour on my dish, thank you very much, judgmental fishmonger 🙄

The original recipe calls for dry salted cod, which I have, again, been unable to find in London. I haven’t really tried very hard, to be honest. Possibly a Portuguese deli would set me up pretty quickly, but for now, I’m happy with the fresh cod! If you use dry salted cod you need to de-salt it first by rehydrating it in water, and changing the water a few times. It’s a bit tricky in that way…

Shops selling dry fish and other dried goods used to be a very common sight in my town about 30 years ago. They were named “salazones” (“salted goods”) or “ultramarinos” (“from overseas”, because they also sold exotic products from far away… like big fish!). I really dreaded walking past one of them, as the smell was SO ABSOLUTELY INTENSE I could barely withstand it. Often I’d devise plans such as holding the breath, or sticking my nose inside my clothes, or covering my nose with my hands… and nothing would work as the smell was just unbeatable.

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

This is fun to make (spiralising things is so much fun), and fairly quick to prepare. Plus it’s quite filling AND lightweight – courgettes are basically water!

You will need a spiraliser, or you can buy pre-made courghetti, although I’ve never tried those and I’ve no idea how bad or good they are!

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Two medium sized courgettes (about 15 cm length)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves
  • One 400g tomato tin
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese and butter (leave out if vegan)

Preparation

  1. Start by washing and spiralising the courgettes. I make one pile per courgette, as it makes it easier to separate the portions later
  2. Peel and chop the onion and garlic cloves
  3. Put oil on a pan, and start frying the onion and garlic
  4. In parallel, wash and chop the parsley, and add it to the pan as well
  5. Once the onion is pretty soft, move everything to one side, like in the picture
  6. Add some more oil, and set to a very high heat
  7. When the pan is very hot, add the contents of the tomato tin to it, and fry on a very high heat for about 1-2 minutes or until you think things are going to burn! Stir frequently during this time. The goal is to get the tomato to lose its acidity
  8. Now reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes
  9. Optional: add a dash of butter now to get a deeper body. Mix it well until it dissolves.
  10. Slowly add about 200ml of warm water to compensate for the evaporation.
  11. Add a tablespoon of paprika, and mix well
  12. About 10 minutes in the simmering, try a bit of the sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste, mix well and try the sauce again. It might still be a bit acidic, but don’t add sugar – just wait for longer!
  13. Depending on the quality of the tomatoes, you might need to wait for longer. It usually pays off to wait as the flavour gets more developed and interesting. So you might need more than 20 minutes.
  14. Once the sauce is ‘done’, turn the heat off.
  15. To cook the courghetti, add some oil to another pan, and set on a very high heat.
  16. When the pan is very hot, add a ‘pile’ of courghetti, and stir continuously. We don’t want anything to get stuck, and we want the cooking to be homogeneous. We also don’t want the courghettis to get too soft, so that’s why we need the heat to be very high, so they cook outside but not too much inside. If the heat is too low, they will start releasing water, and the result will be too “liquidy”.
  17. Once one pile is cooked, place on a deep bowl, and go to step 15 to cook the next, until all have been cooked.
  18. Pour the sauce on top of the cooked courghetti
  19. Optional: add a good dose of grated Parmesan cheese
  20. Add some pepper
  21. Optional: add a dash of the best olive oil you have

Tricks and tips

I used this smoked paprika my mum brought me from Extremadura, a region in West Spain, renowned by the quality of their paprika!

Smoked paprika

If you have the chance to shop at a Spanish grocers, “Pimentón de la Vera” is the type of paprika you want to look for.

Also, depending on your spiraliser, you might get very long ‘courghetti’ so it might be interesting to cut the piles a few times with scissors before cooking them, so they’re not like 3 meters long and impossible to eat with a fork.