It is the beginning of the asparagus season and asparagus and blue cheese go so well together. You get a rich and somewhat salty soup. Bellingham Blue, produced in Mansfieldtown, Co Louth, by Peter and Anita Thomas is a beautiful cheese. Then there are the sister cheeses of Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue and their visitor and tasting experience is well worth booking. This soup also works well with peas or spinach instead of asparagus.
I like to use leftover ham hock in the sweet potato and coconut soup. I sometimes make it with butternut squash or carrot. This is a great comfort soup that keeps well for two to three days in the fridge. Leave out the ham and you have a very good vegetarian soup.
Asparagus Soup with
Blue Cheese & Croutons
Serves four to six
675g (1½lb) bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed
50g (2oz) butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 potato, diced, 900ml (1½ pints) chicken stock
175g (6oz) blue cheese, crumbled
100ml (3 ½fl oz) cream, plus extra to garnish
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crunchy croutons, to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
1 Cut 5cm (2in) of the tips off the asparagus stalks and simmer them very gently in a pan of boiling salted water for three to four minutes, until just tender. Drain well and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.
2 Roughly chop the remaining stalks. Heat the butter in a large pan over a medium heat and add the shallots, potato and chopped asparagus stalks. Cover and cook gently for 10 minutes until softened but not coloured, stirring once or twice.
3 Pour in the stock, season to taste and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are completely tender and the soup has thickened slightly. Leave the soup to cool a little, then purée in batches in a food processor or with a hand-held liquidiser.
4 Return to the pan and whisk in most of the blue cheese, reserving some for a garnish, and the cream. Season to taste and reheat gently, being careful not to boil.
5 Serve hot or chilled, ladled into bowls and garnished with the reserved asparagus tips, the rest of the blue cheese and a sprinkling of croutons. Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil to finish
Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup with Ham
Serves six to eight
900g (2lb) sweet potatoes, diced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 red chilli, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
1.25 litres (2¼ pints)
vegetable or chicken stock
4 tsp tomato purée
400g (14oz) can coconut milk
225g (8oz) cooked, shredded ham hock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
Crusty bread, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/gas mark 6).
2 Place the sweet potatoes in a baking tin. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the sunflower oil and roast for 15 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
3 Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and chilli and sweat for four minutes, stirring occasionally.
4 Add the roasted sweet potatoes with the stock and tomato purée, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, until all of the vegetables are completely tender.
5 Reserve three to four tablespoons of the coconut milk as a garnish and pour the remainder into the pan with most of the shredded ham hock, again holding a little back to garnish. Cook for another few minutes, stirring constantly. Season to taste and ladle the soup into warmed bowls.
6 Add a drizzle of the reserved coconut milk and scatter over the rest of the shredded ham hock and the coriander leaves to garnish. Serve hot with some tasty crusty bread on the side.
Makes about 10
rapeseed or sunflower oil, for greasing
225g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
225g (8oz) coarse wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
50g (2oz) wheat bran
25g (1oz) butter, diced and at room temperature
1 tsp light muscovado sugar
300ml (½ pint) buttermilk, plus a little extra if necessary
1 tsp golden syrup butter or lightly whipped cream, to serve
strawberry jam, to serve
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7).
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and grease the paper. Sift the flours, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Tip in the bran left in the sieve and stir in with the wheat bran. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until evenly dispersed. Stir through the sugar.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk and golden syrup. Using a large spoon, mix gently and quickly until you have achieved a smooth, not-too-sticky dough. Add a little bit more buttermilk if necessary, until the dough binds together without being sloppy.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 2.5cm (1in) thickness and cut into rounds with a 6cm (2 ½in) plain cutter. Arrange on the lined baking sheets and bake for 10–15 minutes, until golden brown and well risen. Serve with butter or lightly whipped cream and strawberry jam.