This is the second of three recipes produced in partnership with Parmigiano Reggiano

Lockdown has got me thinking about the cumulative power of small things; the way that all the behaviours we perform on a day to day basis stack up to equal our wellbeing. Something as small as smoothing on moisturiser after a shower; getting a haircut; buying an ice cream; shopping for ingredients without a list; taking the first sip of a cold pint; hugging a mate; wearing new shoes.

Quality of life is notoriously hard to measure, primarily because it’s subjective. We will likely agree on many measures of this fuzzy metric but many are specific to the individual. We all have different vulnerabilities, take pleasure in different activities and feel the holes left by people and places in different ways. Right now I feel a bit like I’m rushing to plug an emotional leak only for another one to spring up in its place.

This is related to minestrone, I promise. The Italian classic is itself an accumulation of small parts, adding up to a comforting whole. It’s also quite variable, although as far as I understand it the ingredients Italians argue about most are the beans and pasta. I’m sure most would also be horrified at my changing the veg and serving the soup with what basically equates to garlic bread but as I said, it’s each to their own right now. I’m going with what makes me happy and so should you.

Parmigiano Reggiano is, of course, non-negotiable. I’ve always kept old rinds in the freezer ready for soup-making because there’s tons of flavour there for the taking. The rind simmers, softens and leaks its umami into the broth. Recently, I saw Rosie Mackean frying hers to caramelise it before simmering and I thought it was genius, so that’s what I’ve done with this recipe. I’d recommend – as she does – keeping the rind back as a chef’s treat.

The distinctive, dotted rind of Parmigiano Reggiano can be eaten as there’s no wax used to cover it; the outside is hard purely due to its reaction with the air. As a PDO product there are many regulations governing its manufacture, of course; strict feeding regulations for the cattle which produce the milk; a minimum period of maturation and a regional restriction which denotes that all stages of production must occur in Parmigiano Reggiano’s area of origin in northern Italy.

Will I emerge from this strange period matured like a fine cheese, or with a touch of rot around the edges? It’s the little things that are likely to preserve my whole.

Minestrone Soup with Parmigiano Reggiano Recipe

Serves 4

1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or grated
1 medium potato, diced the same size as the onion
1 tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
120g (or thereabouts) spring greens or sweetheart cabbage (ribs removed and finely sliced)
1 bunch asparagus (around 16 spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths)
75g small pasta shapes
600ml good chicken or vegetable stock
1 rind of Parmigiano Reggiano
100g pancetta, diced and fried until crisp
Olive oil, for frying

For the garlic butter toast

I don’t think you need a recipe to tell you how to mash garlic and parsley into butter and spread it onto toast, so I’ll leave that one with you.

Add a glug of oil to a nice large saucepan and gently cook the onion and celery until soft but not coloured, around 5-10 minutes. Add your rind of Parmigiano Reggiano, dotted side up and let it caramelise on the bottom of the pan for a few minutes.

Add your garlic and cook gently, stirring, for a few minutes more. Add your potato and cook for a few minutes longer, then add the beans and stock along with 400ml water.

Bring to the boil then taste and season with salt and pepper. Let all this bubble away for 15 minutes or so, to let that cheese rind infuse.

Add your pasta shapes and the stalk ends of the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes before adding the asparagus tips and cabbage.

Garnish with crispy pancetta and the garlic toast.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know I was in Belize in Central America a couple of weeks ago. I can’t write much about that trip now because it will all be published in a magazine later this year but I came back feeling very inspired by the food, and I wanted to create something which incorporated Caribbean ingredients. Longtime followers will know that the food of the Caribbean has always attracted me and I learnt lots in Belize, where the cuisine combines many culinary influences.

I’ve used achiote in this soup – an earthy flavouring made from ground annatto seeds, also popular as a colouring agent. I was already familiar with it as an ingredient in Mexican pork pibil recipes but using it to flavour soups and stews was new to me. I added it to a base of homemade fish stock with pierced scotch bonnet chilli and some cassava – a total revelation. To be honest, I’d always dismissed cassava as a boring starchy root but it has a really interesting nutty flavour and the texture of a very waxy potato.

I used cod cheeks because they’re really good value and hold their bouncy texture well in soup, and splashed out on some massive, meaty prawns. On the side, I made fry jacks, which are deep-fried dough dumplings served with pretty much anything in Belize – eggs, refried beans and cheese are all popular toppings. I’ve added wild garlic to mine, which brings me just about to the end of the bin bag of wild garlic I’ve been working through for the past week.

This is a stunner of a recipe (even if I do say so myself) with deep flavour from the fish stock but a lightness, too. The corn brings pops of sweetness and the scotch bonnet a background buzz of tropical heat. The jacks were a perfect accompaniment while still warm – crisp on the outside, fluffy and garlicky inside and ready to soak up that soup. Heaven.

Belizean Inspired Fish Soup with Wild Garlic Fry Jacks Recipe

Serves 4

For the fish stock

1kg fish heads and scraps
1.5 litres water
Small bunch parsley stalks
1 sprig thyme
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Large knob of butter

For the soup

600g cod cheeks
8 raw, shell-on king prawns (you could shell these if you want to make the eating easier but I like to get messy and suck the heads once cooked)
2 scotch bonnet chillies, pierced and left whole
300g cassava, peeled, woody core removed and diced
1 teaspoon achiote powder
Handful wild garlic leaves washed and sliced
2 corn cobs, kernels sliced off (or you could use a tin)
Handful coriander

For the fry jacks

250g plain flour
30g butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
50g wild garlic leaves washed and finely chopped
Oil for deep frying

First, make the fish stock. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes. Add the fish heads and scraps and fry a few minutes longer. Add the water, herbs and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then strain. This is the base of your soup.

Make the dough for your fry jacks by mixing the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until it resembles crumbs. Add the wild garlic and milk and mix to a dough. Knead 30 seconds until smooth, then separate into 8 balls.

Add the stock to a large saucepan. Mix a tablespoon or so of the stock with the achiote powder until you have a red paste. Add this back to the soup with the cassava chunks and allow to simmer while you make your fry jacks.

Heat a couple of inches of oil to 180C in a heavy cast iron skillet or another suitable pan. Roll each ball out into a circle on a lightly floured surface and cut each circle in half. Make a slit in the centre of each (see photo to see what I mean). Deep fry each piece for a couple of minutes, then carefully flip over. They’re ready when puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Once the jacks are done, finish the soup by dropping in the corn, wild garlic, cod cheeks and prawns and cooking gently for 4-5 minutes. Season. Finish with the coriander and serve with the jacks.

People are laughing at me because I’ve decided I like soup. For years I’ve been very picky about hot bowls of liquid masquerading as meals letting only those involving noodles, wontons or chunky bits into my life. It’s a texture thing; I can’t stand anything that’s devoid of chew or crunch and there’s only so much bread one can justify eating in a single sitting. I say this as a professional-level carb-consumer.

Recently I’ve relaxed the rules a little but still require plenty of vegetables and garnish to keep my soups from the dreaded one-note drab fest. This soup was originally destined to remain a stock but evolved over a couple of days into a rich, meaty number with a warming background heat from the scotch bonnet chillies. People asked for the recipe after watching me make it on Instagram Stories, so here it is.

I quick-pickled some red onions because I thought the soup would want something to cut the richness. It didn’t. The crispy okra is important, however, adding a bright, fresh flavour and of course, another all-important texture. It’s going to be a long winter filled with warming bowlfuls in this house. Yeah I know, you’re all doing it already. Maybe I can tackle another traditionally shunned one-texture food next? Polenta perhaps. Or mashed potato that isn’t 70% butter.

Oxtail Soup with Scotch Bonnet, Potatoes and Crispy Okra Recipe

This soup is a bit of a time investment but you will be rewarded. You need to start it the day before you want to eat it as oxtail is very fatty and leaving it overnight in the fridge means you can easily remove the fat which sets on top. I also used a pressure cooker to cook the oxtail which makes the process faster but you could simmer the stew for 3 hours until tender. This makes around 6 servings.

1 oxtail (around 9 pieces – ask your butcher to chop it for you)
2 litres good beef stock
500ml Guinness
1 carrot, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 scotch bonnet chillies, split but left whole
1 thumb ginger, peeled and sliced thickly
8 stalks thyme
4 waxy potatoes, diced
A good handful chard or other sturdy greens, sliced
Around 10 okra, sliced
Flour and oil, for frying the oxtail

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan or skillet. Toss the oxtail in seasoned flour and brown it really well in a pan. A lot of fat will come out which you may need to drain off as you fry. Set aside.

Remove all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan and fry the onion, carrot and celery until soft and starting to colour golden. You want to get them nice and soft as this forms a sweet base for the soup. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so.

Add the mixture to a pressure cooker along with the beef stock, Guinness, chillies, thyme, ginger and some salt and pepper. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the oxtail is very soft. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove from the fridge and take the layer of fat off the top. Pull the meat off the oxtail and add back to the soup. Pick out any pieces you don’t want like thyme stalks and the whole bonnets (you could leave the chillies in if that’s your thing!) then reheat the soup.

Add the diced potatoes. Fry the okra slices in a couple of tablespoons of oil until crisp and drain on kitchen paper. When the potatoes are cooked, add the chard and bring back to the boil. Check seasoning and serve, garnished with the okra.

Cheese and Kimchi Toasties

I never thought I’d be posting a squash recipe here, let alone a squash soup. I used to loathe the pappy sweetness of most orange-fleshed gourds, and they’re like pure baby food when whizzed into a soup; I’ve still got teeth. In recent years however I’ve come around to certain preparations of butternut squash, in particular those which steer away from that pumpkin-pie-cinnamon-spice-thanksgiving vibe. Miso does this job very well indeed, its yeasty funk bringing some complexity.

A toasted cheese sandwich is hardly a groundbreaking accompaniment to soup but it is more exciting with the addition of kimchi, especially a really punchy one. I used up the ends of a cheeseboard in the sandwich but it was mostly Lancashire, which has some sharpness. That’s one gnarly end of ageing cheese and a double whack of fermentation before 1pm on a Wednesday. Not bad going.

Squash and Miso Soup with Kimchi Cheese Toasties

Squash & Miso Soup with Cheese & Kimchi Toasties

If you do dig the sweetness of squash then you could enhance that in this soup by roasting it first and adding it later.

1 kg butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cubed
1 large potato (around 400g), peeled and cubed. You could use sweet potato too.
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and grated or crushed (I do all mine on a microplane these days)
3-4 tablespoons white miso (or yellow)
1.5 litres good quality vegetable stock
Oil for frying (vegetable or groundnut/peanut)
Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese seven spice) to garnish (optional)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan (large enough to cook the soup in) and gently cook the onion until soft but not coloured, then add the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute or so, taking care not to burn it. Add the miso and stock and stir until the miso is dissolved. Add the squash and potato and simmer gently until soft. Blend the soup – this is easiest with a stick blender.

Taste and season. Serve topped with a sprinkle of shichimi and the cheese toastie.

For the toastie

Two slices sourdough bread
Cheese (any melter will do here, but you want something with strong flavour, like good Cheddar or Lancashire)
Butter or mayonnaise

Do I really need to tell you how to do this? Okay. You can either butter the outside of your bread or spread it with mayonnaise, both work well (as mayonnaise is really just oil). If you have a toastie machine, as I do, then it’s a case of filling the sandwich and then putting it (butter or mayo-ed side down) into the machine. If you don’t, then fry the sandwich in butter, weighing it down with something heavy, then flipping over and repeating until golden on both sides.

Corn Soup

It’s the end of the summer and the corn is going cheap. I bought four cobs for a quid in Peckham yesterday and a frankly quite staggering twelve red peppers for the same. Twelve. Not joking.

This soup only uses one you’ll be pleased to know, along with two cobs and some classic Caribbean flavours: thyme, scotch bonnet chilli and coconut. It’s a hearty mix, thickened with yellow split peas and potato but my version is light compared with other recipes which use pumpkin or squash and other vegetables. I prefer a fresher version that keeps the focus on the juicy bursts of corn. I strip one cob and slice the other so I’m not denied the pleasure of gnawing on it.

The scotch bonnet chilli is left whole and slit lengthways to release just moderate fruity heat and the creamy coconut milk smooths things over. It tastes tropical and most importantly, it celebrates the corn. At that price, it would be rude not to.

Jamaican Style Sweetcorn Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli
150g yellow split peas
1 litre stock (I used vegetable)
400ml tin of coconut milk
2 sprigs of thyme
2 cobs corn
1 red pepper, diced
1 large potato, diced

Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or groundnut oil in a pan and add the onion. Let it sweat over a lowish heat for about 8 minutes then add the garlic for a couple of minutes more, taking care not to let it burn. Make a cut down the length of the chilli, but keep it intact and add it to the pan with the split peas, thyme and stock – simmer for 30 minutes.

Prepare the corn by shaving the kernels from one of the cobs, running your knife down the sides, top to bottom. Slice the other one into 2cm thick slices (I nicked that idea from this recipe recently. I also nicked their presentation). Add the corn, coconut milk and potato and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the red pepper for the final 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow the soup to cool a little then remove the chilli, thyme and corn slices (reserve the corn slices) and blend half the soup. If it is still quite hot then make sure not to fill the blender more than half way and hold the lid down because if you don’t you will end up with soup all over your kitchen. It will blast the lid off the blender. Return to the pan and add back the corn slices. Reheat if necessary, adjust the seasoning and serve.

Two Garlic Soup

I actually can’t stop eating outrageous amounts of garlic. One or two cloves is no longer an acceptable amount. The obsession gently rumbles on. In contrast, I like to think that my immune system is racing ahead, building lymphocytes faster than you can say ‘flu’. In reality, rather than glowing with shiny health I’m sure I just gently whiff of garlic. Constantly.

Gorgeous little soup though, even if it is rather rich. I based it on this one but reduced the amount of regular cloves, omitted the sage and added a small handful of the wild garlic I picked at Riverford Farm. The soup is interesting because it goes from looking like hot dishwater with a few pearly cloves bobbing on the bubbles to a creamy, velveteen elixir; pretty amazing considering it doesn’t contain even the merest smidgen of cream. It is instead enriched with the rather wanky sounding ‘binding pomade’ – a combination of eggs, Parmesan and olive oil. You slowly whisk the oil into the cheese and amber yolks, then a ladleful of the broth into the ‘pomade’ and then the whole lot back into the broth. It’s really rather a calming and leisurely process. I used the time to reflect on important issues such as where I might have left the key for the bin room, whether it was too early to open a beer or not and when I might find time to make Ottolenghi’s caramelised garlic tart. Actually that last one really is important.

The original recipe suggests pouring the finished soup over day-old pieces of baguette, which I did, but found the combination of rich soup and soggy bread paste rather unpleasant. Really unpleasant, actually. Like eating a piece of sodden bog roll. The second helping was much more enjoyable with a bit of traditional dunking and of course, the terminal wiping of bowl.

It is extremely garlicky but deeply savoury; the wild garlic brings its sprightly green bite. I would advise you to use good Parmesan, as it makes all the difference and a nice grassy olive oil that isn’t too strong. The finished thing is really rather pretty and spring-like I think, with a cheeky richness that makes a stealthy approach, soothing and satisfying with every mouthful.

Two Garlic Soup

(adapted from this recipe)

950ml water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

For binding

1 egg
2 egg yolks
40g parmesan
Pepper (white might be nice actually)
50ml olive oil

Bring the water to a boil in a pan and add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic cloves and salt. Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer for 40 minutes. Strain into a bowl, then remove and discard the bay leaf and return the garlic and the infused water back to the pan but off the heat. Taste and add more salt if you like but remember the Parmesan is coming later.

Whisk the egg, the yolks, Parmesan and pepper together until creamy. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, as if you were making mayonnaise. Then, take a ladleful of the broth and do the same, whisking it really slowly into the oil mixture. Now tip the whole thing into the remaining broth in the pan and set over a low to medium heat, stirring all the time until it starts to thicken. Heidi mentions in her recipe that the creator of the original recipe, Richard Olney, says that it should be cooked, “just long enough to be no longer watery” but I agree with her that it is nicer when it’s a bit thicker.

Serve over bread or not – up to you. I prefer it not. I drizzled a bit more oil and grated a little extra cheese on top.

Other garlicky goodness:

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic
Garlic Curry


This is a delicious Polish recipe given to me by a friend’s mother. Vegetables (carrot, parsnip, potato) are simmered in stock and water with a leg of chicken or a fatty cut of beef. At the end of cooking time, the meat is removed (his mother notes: ‘do with it what you want!’) then the cucumbers (brined not pickled) are grated and fried in butter before being added to the pot. Cream, seasoning and dill are then stirred through, together with a little of the cucumber brine if you want a slightly more sour taste. It is this brine that makes the cukes Polish-style. The process of natural fermentation in brine is how they develop their sour taste – no vinegar involved.

As you can see we put the shredded chicken back into the soup afterwards – not part of the original recipe – couldn’t resist it. I also added quite a lot of the brine back to the pot as I really loved the sour taste.

Polish Cucumber Soup Recipe

3 pints water (I used 2 pints water + 1 pint of stock instead of the stock cube below. This is purely because I have an irrational fear of stock cubes!)
1 stock cube (if using)
284ml single cream
1 bunch dill
1 parsnip, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 baking potato (I used 2 normal sized potatoes as I didn’t have a baker), diced
1 jar of cucumbers in brine (my friend’s mum recommends Krakus, which is the brand I used but apparently, others will do fine), drained weight 540g.
1 chicken leg (or beef but this needs to be a fatty cut)
2 tablespoons butter

Add water, stock and chicken (or beef) to pan.

Add the chopped veggies and simmer until meat and veggies are soft (around 30 minutes). At the end of this time, remove the meat (I shredded it to add back at the end).

While the soup simmers, grate all the ‘cumbers’ and reserve the brine.

Fry the cumbers in the butter on a very low heat for around 5 minutes and add to the soup.

Finally, add single cream, dill, salt and pepper. If you want the soup to be more sour, add some cumber brine. If you want a thinner soup, add a little water. Add the chicken back in if you like.