Smoky Cullen Skink Soup

When the first suggestion of Winter arrives, right in the middle of Autumn, it’s a reminder to gather wood for the fires and adjust the wardrobe and mental outlook for the oncoming cold season. Many Melburnians still have their head in the sand, believing that Australia is a hot place. For six months of the year, it’s cold and inhospitable, with dreary grey skies dominating the landscape, and black dressing de rigeur. Out come the Michelin man garments, those unflattering and un-environmental puffer jackets and vests that work rather well, along with fingerless gloves, berets and warm leggings, umbrellas and wind jackets. I’m not a fan of Winter but in theory, it does have a certain romantic appeal.

A taste of winter.  Southern Cross station, April 10th. Autumn turns mean.

And that appeal centres around soup. Late Autumn soups become thick and creamy, a French purée or perhaps an Italian crema. Lunchtime zuppa del giorno loaded with beans or pulses, is eaten as a piatta unica with crusty bread. Vegetarian shepherds pie makes a comeback, Autumn’s new eggplants feature in rich Turkish fare dressed with Pekmez, and the day might culminate with a sharp cheddar cheese served with whisky laced fig jam, a salty, sweet and peaty treat beside the fire. Served with a single malt of course.

Soup for two in found English bowls.

One of my favourite creamed soups, Cullen Skink, features smoked fish. Cullen is a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland and is well worth a visit, while Skink ( no, not a small lizard) may be derived from soups made with shins or ham bones. There are as many versions of Cullen Skink as there are Scots. Some like it chunky: others, like me, prefer it pureed. The main thing that each recipe has in common is simplicity: potatoes, smoked fish, onions and milk. Once you begin adding fresh fish, or bacon or any other bits and pieces, the soup becomes a chowder.

Cullen Skink, for four servings or two greedy sized servings.

  • I tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
  • 300 ml water
  • 250 g smoked haddock, or mackerel, skin on.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 250 ml milk
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives

In a large heavy based saucepan, sauté the onion and celery till soft. Add the potatoes and cover barely with water. Bring to the boil, lower to medium heat and cook until the potatoes are soft.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, add the milk, smoked fish and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 8 minutes or so while the potatoes are cooking.

Remove the fish from the milk. Skin the fish, carefully remove the flesh, discard all the bones and skin, then strain the milk back into the pot containing the potato. Add the flaked fish. Bring back to high heat. Then puree using a hand-held stick blender. Add more milk or cream to thin a little if you prefer. Reheat,

Add finely chopped parsley or chives to serve, with crusty bread.

* The choice of smoked fish is important. Look for small, dark whole fish, not the supermarket, chemically dyed yellow cod, or smoked salmon or trout, the latter being too mild in flavour. New Zealand readers will have more options as more varieties of smoked fish are readily available in NZ supermarkets and fishmongers.

My everyday sourdough loaves, to serve with soup.

An interesting Guardian article about the ins and outs of Cullen Skink can be found here.

Which season do you prefer? What are your thoughts on Puffer Jackets? Do you like smoked foods?

 

Easy Green Soup

This is an old stand- by soup, made when I need to charge my batteries. It requires minimal thought and is adaptable, relying on 3 basic elements: onion, potato and a pile of greens. This week’s green soup was made from zucchini, silver beet ( chard), parsley and basil. In winter, I make it with half a bunch of celery and add a few dark leaves for colour. The outside, often discarded, green leaves of an iceberg lettuce make an excellent addition. Peas go well. Any soft, non- bitter leaves will do. I don’t usually use a recipe but today, I am attempting to add quantities. It’s a great recipe for beginners in the kitchen as well as worn out cooks too.

Super Green Soup

  • 400 gr potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 200 gr onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 kilogram of greens, such as, zucchini, silver beet leaves and stems, outside leaves of an iceberg lettuce, young Cos lettuce leaves, parsley, celery, basil etc, roughly chopped or torn.
  • 1 vegetable stock cube

Optional. Cream

Add the chopped potato and onion to a pot. Add a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add all the greens. After another 10 minutes, check that everything is soft. Don’t overcook or you will lose the bright green colour. Puree with a stick blender, return to pot. Add the stock cube. Add some cream if you don’t feel too purist. Serve with chopped chives and ground pepper.

It is easy being green.

 

Winter Solstice Mushroom Soup

Every winter solstice, I am drawn to dark looking foods. One year it was squid ink pasta, followed by an eggplant dish. Sometimes, we have a pint of Guinness. On one particular occasion, an old friend, Brian, arrived dressed for the occasion, his cheeks smeared with charcoal, a crooked stick in hand, and wandered around my kitchen muttering Celtic chants. He then placed a wooden box of dried oak leaves on the table, a box of spells perhaps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Crema di funghi e porcini

This year’s Solstice offering is a traditional mushroom soup. I only make this soup when my favourite green grocery sells discounted bags of mushrooms that have dark gills. White coloured mushrooms are rather insipid in flavour. I have add a handful of dried porcini to boost the taste of the dark woods.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cream of mushroom and porcini soup.

First make a good rich vegetable stock. The smaller you cut the vegetables in a veggie stock, the more they will sweat off flavour. Also use the mushroom stems in your stock.

Crema di funghi e porcini,  Cream of mushroom and porcini soup

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 50g of butter
  • 1 potato, diced
  • 500g sliced mushrooms, preferably with darker gills.
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 15 g dried porcini mushrooms
  • a handful of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup of cream, or more
  • 1 tablespoon or more, dry sherry
  • some sour cream or crème fraîche to serve
  • black pepper and salt
  • finely chopped parsley to serve
  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in some of the hot stock. Leave for 20 minutes, then remove porcini and strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. Save the soaking liquid.
  2. Add butter to a heavy based saucepan or soup pot, add the onions and cook gently until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and toss through briefly, then add the sliced mushrooms and chopped porcini. Toss around for a few minutes until the mushrooms wilt and reduce, then add the diced potato, thyme, stock and reserved porcini liquid.
  3. Simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, then blend with a stick blender until very smooth. Add the cream, warm through, then add freshly ground pepper, a little salt, and the sherry. Taste and check for seasoning and sherry.

Serve with a little crème fraîche or sour cream and parsley and some good bread.

High Hydration Sourdough loaves.
High Hydration Sourdough loaves, mark 3.

It’s all Greek to Me. Briami Me Fetta

In Autumn, hearty Greek dishes form a harmonious bridge spanning summer and winter. Many vegetables are at their peak, particularly eggplant and peppers (capsicums) and summer vegetables, such as zucchini, still linger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have noticed my Greek neighbour Anna, who loves Olive oil, kasseri and fetta, and fish straight from the Vic Market, cooks differently each Autumn, in keeping with the dietary restrictions of her church during Lent.

For the Greek Orthodox Lenten fasting means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs) and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. The number of meals on each day is also limited.  Vegetable margarine, shortening, and oils are allowed if they do not contain any dairy products and are not derived from olives.

This is a bit tough! No Olive oil or cheese? Apparently oil may be had on Saturdays and Sundays only. This dish, Briami Me Fetta, Μπριάμ με φέτα, or vegetable casserole with fetta cheese, is not in keeping with Greek Lent dishes. It includes plenty of EV Olive oil and includes a lovely topping of fetta cheese. It is similar to Ratatouille but the layering method makes for a lasagne style vegetable dish, with the potatoes and fetta adding more interest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Briami Me Fetta – Vegetable Casserole with Fetta ( Serves 6)

  • 500 g eggplants
  • 500 g zucchini
  • 500 g potatoes ( I use yellow fleshed ones such as Nicola or Dutch Creams)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 425 g can of tomatoes, chopped, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • freshly ground salt, pepper
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • chopped herbs- parley, dill, oregano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 250 gr fetta cheese, thinly sliced.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  1. Preheat Oven to 180c.
  2. Cut eggplants into thin slices. If they are fresh and young, there is no need to salt and disgorge them. If they are older, sprinkle with salt and let stand in a  colander for 1/2 hour or so, then wash and squeeze dry.
  3. Slice the zucchini, onions, peel and slice the potatoes, seed and slice the peppers.
  4. Combine the garlic with the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Lightly oil a large oven dish or a heavy metal casserole, Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers in layers, seasoning as you go. Then cover with a layer of onion rings, tomato mixture and chopped herbs.
  6. Repeat these layers until all vegetables are used, finishing with tomato and herbs. Pour oil of the top and down the sides of the dish, cover with foil ( and a lid if using a heavy casserole) and bake until vegetables are tender or about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove cover and place fetta on top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.

    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach
    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach

Serve with one of the following: crusty bread, small pasta shapes, rice or bulgar pilaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This dish is even better the next day.

Based on a Tess Mallos recipe, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook.1996

One smoked trout and two meals for two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A hot smoked trout is a lovely treasure to store in the fridge for summer days. It landed there before Christmas and I am rather pleased it wasn’t required for a Christmas smoked trout pate. Now I can enjoy its pink, smoky flesh slowly over a couple of meals.

This hot day salad is a relative of Salad Nicoise. The ingredients are randomly chosen from the garden such as potato, beans, tomato, cucumber, dill and parsley with hard-boiled eggs and pickled gherkins added.  You can add whatever is on hand. Add half the smoked trout, flaked and de-boned to the salad, making sure that you reserve the head, bones and skin, along with the rest of the trout, for the next use. Dress liberally with a garlic and hot mustard vinaigrette.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My next day soup, using the remaining trout and its carcass, is Cullen Skink, that famous chowder style soup from the coastal town of Cullen in Scotland. On a cool summer’s day when the rain softly drizzles, a little chowder is quite restorative.

Cullen Skink.

Ingredients, a list not measured!

  • Head, bones and skin of smoked trout
  • flaked flesh from the trout
  • one onion
  • butter
  • milk
  • cream ( optional)
  • bay leaf
  • 2 potatoes
  • pepper
  • dill, parsley.
trout ones and head cooking in milk.
trout bones and head cooking in milk.
  1. Remove the bones, skin and head from the trout. Flake the fish, reserve. In a small pan, add the bones, head and skin, along with milk generously to cover and one bay leaf. Cook gently for five minutes or so, then cool.
  2. Cook the peeled potatoes, cut into chunks, in water until soft. Reserve water. Mash potatoes.
  3. Melt some butter in a heavy based pan and cook the chopped onion gently until golden. Using a mesh strainer, add all the strained milk from step one, to the onions. Press the solids in the strainer, to extract more flavour and add this. Discard solids. Add the mashed potato. Thin a little with potato cooking water.
  4. Add flaked trout, ground black pepper, chopped herbs and cream, tasting as you go, to obtain a good texture. It’s up to you how thin or rich your chowder becomes.
  5. Serve with good bread. An Irish soda bread would be perfect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another day, another sourdough.
Another day, another sourdough.

These two meals, using garden produce, costing the trout at $7.30, along with the cost of milk, cream, butter and some pantry bits, came to around $10.00. That is $2.50 per person per meal, for the salad and the soup, a little more than my $1.00 per meal goal.  I have not factored in the cost of power, or the labour involved in growing our own vegetables.

A Farewell to Broad Beans. Frittata di Primavera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At some ungodly hour this morning, still half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice saying,  ‘Don’t make a rod for your own back.’  At the time, I was considering the long list of jobs in the vegetable garden for the day ahead. Rod for my back?  Yes indeed.

In Spring, the garden turns into the dictator of this little kingdom. The broad beans must come out today, the potatoes were dug out yesterday, a rather disappointing crop due to frosts in June. All the silver beet plants are now towering over me as they all simultaneously go to seed. They must be dug out and handed over to the chickens, reminding me that next week, the greens will be few in our kitchen.  There are lettuces and cucumbers to transplant, more crops to sow, and a piece of metal rio (metal building mesh) would be very handy to make a shady wall for the rhubarb. The fruit trees need netting, the tomato plants staking!  Just as one languishes in the land of plenty, along comes that dictator to deliver the rod. Or am I stuck in some bygone land of Catholic penance?

Non Capisco una Fava!
Non Capisco una Fava!

Many meals come my way gratis, thanks to l’orto, the veggie garden. This is the upside of our peasant labour, and when I eat this way, I feel that it’s worth all the effort. Last night’s Frittata is an example. I gathered all the ingredients from the garden, added some eggs from our chickens and made a 10 minute meal that was alive with taste, and rather healthy too.

Frittata di Primavera -Fave, Patata e Rugola

Spring Frittata with Broad Beans, Potato and Rocket.

This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together if you have already cooked and peeled the broad beans, which is discussed previously here.

  • 4 -5 small new potatoes, yellow fleshed
  • 1 cup of broad beans
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
  • a large handful of rugola/rocket
  • Extra Virgin olive oil ( Australian oil is an excellent choice if you happen to live here)
  • vinegar di Jerez ( Sherry vinegar)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Method

  • Boil the new potatoes in their skins, until just done. Roughly chop.
  • Heat a small non stick pan and add a good glug of olive oil.
  • Add potatoes, turn around in the oil, add a pinch of salt and the paprika, and cook till golden.
  • Add the chopped garlic, turn about for a minute, then add the double shelled broad beans.
  • Beat the eggs with a little more salt and pepper, then pour over the vegetables.
  • Lift up the edges of the frittata, allowing the unset egg to run back under, turning the pan as you go.
  • When the frittata looks almost done, except for the wet top, pop it under a hot grill for a minute or so to set.
  • When done, invert onto a plate, using the plate as a lid over the pan.
  • Top with rugola/rocket, which has been dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA