This is the start of a project I’m hoping to work on throughout the year. Five years ago I went off travelling with the hope of learning more about differing cuisines in Europe, and elsewhere. That never happened. Partly as I started the trip out of season, with practically all of the interesting restaurants closed until further notice. That, and with a distinct lack of Wi-Fi in Southern Europe meant it was almost impossible to research the subject whilst there. As the only, at times unreliable, information readily available was through tourist offices – when they spoke English, as most of them did. Not all of them, believe me. Unfortunately, both my Spanish and French are appalling – don’t understand a word in any other tense than the present! Quite honestly, it wasn’t until I hit Central and Eastern Europe that food, and Wi-Fi, actually became a lot more frequent and food more interesting. In that it was possible to eat local cuisine very easily without having to frequent restaurants all the time – something I’m loath to do unless it’s possible to sit outside and people watch. That way it’s always less lonely!
Anyway, the journey itself, from a food point of view, was incredibly dull, most of the time. There’s bad food everywhere. And fast food. Equally as bad. Bocadillos in Spain, crêpes in Southern France and rubbish pasta in Italy! Although, I loved a slice or two of takeaway thin crust pizza. Including when I popped over to Venice for the afternoon. Finding somewhere from the hoards to nibble was the problem. Yes, I nibble my food! Especially in public as I’m not an absolute pig – I just look like one. So! I’m starting off with Spain, a country I happen to like and know almost as well as the UK – if it’s possible to know a country, that is. Oh, and I happen to like it a lot more than the UK, if I’m honest! When I very recently Googled Spanish soup this Hazelnut Soup, or Sopa de Avellanas, was one of the first to appear. And for me it positively leapt from the page. Even though I’ve been all over Spain, apart from Asturias and Galicia, I’ve never heard of this, as it turns out, incredibly delightful soup. Hah, possibly a fluke? Let’s see what the next country on my list has to offer!
Hazelnut Soup or Sopa de Avellanas, with pan-fried leeks
PREP: up to 30 mins ~ COOK: about 45 mins ~ READY IN: 1 hour
ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED: soup blender/liquidiser or handheld stick blender
For the stock:
- ½ x leek, white and both pale and dark greens, sliced lengthways to near its root end and thoroughly rinsed
- 1 x smallish carrot, peeled, trimmed and chopped in half
- 1 x broccoli stalk, well trimmed all over and split in half lengthways
- 1 x dried bay leaf, split
- 5 x whole black peppercorns
- scant ¼ x teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 500ml (16.91 fl oz) x cold water
- 1 x organic vegetable stock cube
For the soup:
- 230g (8.113 oz) x leeks, white and pale green only, sliced crossways and thoroughly rinsed
- up to 80g (2.822 oz) x whole hazelnuts, roasted and ground (it may not be necessary to use all of the hazelnuts, add less and then add more to personal taste)
- seasoning, both freshly ground sea salt (only if necessary) and ground black pepper
- single/light cream, to personal taste
Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.
- Add all of the stock ingredients to a large saucepan with lid and put on electric heat No 4 out of 6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to No 2 and simmer for up to 30 minutes. Take off heat, strain through a metal sieve into a suitable bowl, grab a metal serving spoon and smash the vegetables to retain as much of their nutrients and juice as possible. Return the strained stock, pouring it through a fine wire metal sieve if necessary, to the saucepan.
- in the meantime, put a heavy-based saucepan on heat No 3. When pan is hot add a good glug of oil, enough to cover its base, and add the leeks. Clamp on a lid for the first 15 minutes, stir through and reduce heat to No 2 if necessary. It’s not about caramelising the leeks at this stage. It’s getting them beautifully soft and slightly sticky at the same time. When fully soft take off heat.
- Scatter the hazelnuts on to a baking tray and place in a cold oven on the middle shelf. Switch the oven on to 180°C or 356°F. Set the timer for 10 minutes, and when oven has preheated switch off. Grab the baking tray and check the hazelnuts. If they’re not fully roasted, and they should be a pale golden colour, place them back in the oven for up to 10 minutes more with the oven off and the door closed. Do keep and eye on them at this stage as they can and will scorch. Take them our when ready, allow to cool sufficiently before removing their dark skins. Which should peel off easily. Any that don’t can be keep aside for garnish. The rest need to be ground.
- 5 or 10 minutes before serving add some of the ground hazelnuts to the blended soup base. On heat No 3 allow a couple of minutes for all of the flavours to reheat and infuse before tasting. At this stage do add any necessary seasoning and any extra ground hazelnuts. Thin the soup to the consistency needed with single/light cream and serve hot.
- Pour the strained stock and add some of the leeks to a soup blender when cool enough to do so. Blend until smooth. Taste, if possible, for any needed seasoning and for extra leeks to be added. If that’s the case blend again until smooth.
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