Za’atar roasted cauliflower soup

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Soups are frequent on my table.

It’s true, soups feature more in the cooler months, when I tend to make them hearty and thick. But I’ll happily eat soup any time – no matter the weather.

You’re probably familiar with za’atar – the dried Middle Eastern herb mix, consisting mainly of thyme, oregano, sesame seeds and sumac . It’s so delicious and really can be used on just about any thing. Grab your za’atar – store bought or home made – and sprinkle it over the sliced cauliflower and red onions. A little oil, sea salt, and black pepper and whack in to a hot oven.

Caramalised roasted cauliflower is sweet and nutty and the perfect flavour base for this soup.

For busy people, a quality store bought za’atar is just fine. I keep some store bought handy for fast flavouring. I can’t always be a kitchen goddess! 

 

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I like to make this soup with vegetable stock – home made if you fancy –  but chicken stock also works well. Now, this is the part where I dread to scare you off. A little blue cheese is added and blended into the soup for richness and depth of flavour. Don’t be afraid. I think it goes beautifully with the za’atar and may not even be detected by those who swear they don’t like blue cheese. By all means, you might add more blue cheese, or leave it out all together. If this is the case, grilled cheddar toast served to the side is a good alternative for combining that cheesy flavour with the cauliflower.

 

Za’atar roasted cauliflower soup

Ingredients

1 cauliflower

1 red onion, sliced thinly

1 1/2 tbsp za’atar

1 1/2 litres vegetable stock

2 tbsp blue cheese – I used Gorgonzola, plus extra for garnishing – optional

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Olive oil

Chopped parsley, to garnish

 

Pre heat oven to 220C. Slice cauliflower into 1cm wide pieces – keep them as much in their natural floret shape as possible – and spread on a large tray. Scatter over sliced onions, drizzle cauliflower and onions with olive oil, sprinkle with za’atar, sea salt and pepper, and rub gently to coat. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes.

Place roasted cauliflower and onions in a large saucepan, cover with vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. (if you’re after a thinner soup, add an extra 500ml vegetable stock or water, boil, then simmer for 10 minutes).

Using a stick blender or food processor, blitz soup, add 2tbsp (or more) of  blue cheese and continue blitzing till smooth, taste, adjust seasoning.

Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with chopped parsley. For those, like me, who love blue cheese, crumble extra pieces on top of soup, and serve with plenty of cracked black pepper.

 

 

Fennel and leek sourdough gratin

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I cooked this fennel and leek, sourdough gratin for my lunch last week after spotting some fat gorgeous bulbs of fennel at my local fruit store. I had half a loaf of wholemeal sourdough that needed using when it dawned on me it would be the perfect companion for the fennel.  When the gratin came out of the oven I drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled over some chopped parsley – it sure beat a boring sandwich!

 

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Gratins are a wonderful invention and we can thank the French for them. The culinary term – gratin – takes an ingredient, bakes it in a shallow dish, then tops it with cheese, bread crumbs or cream, then it’s browned under a grill – marvellous!

Now, a good sourdough bread is important in this recipe. A white or a wholemeal may be used. I reckon rye bread would be pretty good too. Don’t waste the crusts, blitz them up also.

This gratin is just one way to enjoy the mild Mediterranean flavour of fennel. Fennel flavours soups, stews and sauces. It can be braised with wine and stock, shaved thinly and eaten raw in salads, wedges can be crumbed and fried – it’s just so versatile!

 

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I’ve also cooked this gratin with Tuscan cabbage instead of leeks and quite liked the bitter edge the cabbage delivered.  A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil after the gratin comes out marries well with the wine and stock.

If you’re looking for a protein to serve alongside this fennel gratin, roast chicken is a good choice, as is a grilled fillet of white fish. Or try French lentils or chickpeas. Or simply do as I did and eat it on it’s own.

 

Fennel and leek sourdough gratin

Ingredients 

1 large bulb fennel

1 large leek

1/2 bunch thyme, picked and chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups hot vegetable stock

1 punnet of grape or small cherry tomatoes

2 cups sourdough bread crumbs ( 2-3 slices sour dough bread)

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Butter for greasing

Chopped parsley to garnish

Pre heat oven to 200C. Grease a 32cm shallow dish with butter. Halve leek and wash well. Slice into thin pieces and scatter over the bottom of the dish. Cut fennel into 1cm rounds, remove any thick inner woody pieces that look tough. Scatter fennel over leeks, sprinkle with chopped thyme, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Heat vegetable stock to boiling. Pour white wine and hot stock over fennel, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 50 – 60minutes.

Meanwhile, take 2-3 slices of sourdough bread, crusts and all, cut into small chunks then place in the food processor and blitz to a chunky crumb.

Remove foil and turn oven up the oven to 220C. Scatter the grape tomatoes evenly over the fennel, top with bread crumbs and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes or till cheese is golden.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.