Back to Basics… Ham n Bean Soup

Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold

Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old

Some like it hot, some like it cold

Some like it in the pot, nine days old

Do any of you remember that little ditty?

… I used to shudder every time I heard it.

At first I thought it was because I couldn’t imagine having a pea porridge. Green peas floating in thick green oatmeal would come to mind, the taste undistinguishable. 

I love oatmeal porridge though… hot, with milk and loads of sugar. A few raisins, and plenty of nuts thrown in for good measure. I also love soup, even pea soup served hot with croutons and chopped up crispy bacon bits on top and just a tiny swirl of cream. But I am most definitely a hot soup person. Vichyssoise or cold Gazpachos don’t do for me what hot soups do.

So yeah… I would shudder at the thought of peas porridge, especially served cold, and most definitely nine days old. But someone did like it back in the day, liked it enough to write a little poem about it that lasted centuries because it was so unique. I wonder if any poems about ‘hot soup’ would have survived that long 😉

Speaking of peas, I really like the Black Eyed Peas, together and in their singular solo artist avatars as well, especially and Fergie with her particular brand of zany rambunctiousness. And then there’s the bean of the same name, the Black Eyed Pea, delicate tasting, versatile, as much at ease boiled and tossed up in a salad as they are curried, or served as an accompaniment along with some fried chicken. They have soul those little beans, rounding up a meal, making it complete and filling up the empty space in your belly. A tidy helping can bring comfort like nothing else can, and when you put this little pea or bean in a soup you know you’ve hit a homer. 

I like my soups rustic, wholesome, full of good stuff which is why I decided to post his recipe. I’ve used ham in this recipe and chicken stock, but you can eliminate both of them and use a vegetable stock instead if you want to keep it vegetarian. What makes this soup really full of flavour is the layered cooking technique. Adding a few ingredients at a time, and sautéing them or cooking them down to release their flavours, before adding in the next lot of ingredients. You can choose to add the stock a little at a time as well, but I have done so in two basic lots, which helps the elements of the soup come together.

I also used a lightly smoked ham for the soup instead of a more heavily smoked variety since I wanted the flavour of the ham coming through with just a wee hint of smokiness, and it really worked well.

 This is what you’ll need –

1 cup ham (cut the fat off the ham, chop it separately and reserve)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

1 tablespoon freshly milled black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1” stick of cinnamon

1/2” piece ginger (minced)

4 medium size cloves of garlic (minced)

2 green chillies (de-seeded and sliced)

3/4 cup chopped zucchini

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/3 cup chopped French beans

1 medium potato cubed

2 cups sprouted black eyed peas

3 large tomatoes (puréed)

1 small onion (minced)

Couple of mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 litres chicken stock

1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (grated) + extra

All that veggie goodness…

You’ll need to soak a little less than a cup of tiny black eyed peas (I used the smaller variety) in water for at least 4 – 6 hours. Then drain, wash well and place them in a covered dish to sprout. I let it sprout for well over 24 hours.

In a large pot, put in your EVOO and ham fat and fry it on low till the fat melts. Add in the ham and fry for 2 – 3 minutes. Then add in the chopped carrots, onion and black pepper, frying them on low for about 3 – 4 minutes.

Now add the cinnamon, paprika, parsley, oregano and cumin powder and toss lightly, before adding in the cubed potatoes. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes, adding in the black eyed peas and the tomato purée. Allow it to simmer for an additional 3 -4 minutes before adding a litre of chicken stock (I used home-made chicken stock but you could use the packaged variety as well). Bring the soup the boil, then reduce the flame down to low and cook the soup covered for about 45 minutes.

Add in another litre of warm chicken stock at this stage and bring it up to a boil before adding in the chopped zucchini, French beans and salt. Reduce the flame down to low again, and cook the soup for another 45 minutes to an hour, till the peas are cooked through and all the flavours have amalgamated. Mash up some of the veggies with the back of a slotted spoon, or you could purée some of them if you like and add them back into the soup. I chose to use the back of the spoon method since I wanted to retain my veggies mostly whole.

Turn off the flame, add in some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano`and a few chopped mint leaves and mix well.

Serve the soup hot, garnished with some more Parmigiano-Reggiano… and if you like some more chopped up ham.

I’m a happy soul, I am! 🙂

Rosemary Parmesan Milk Bread

Weekend’s are baking bonanza time in my house… and I’ve got my fingers crossed over a raisin yeast water that I’m trying out… but that’s for another day and another loaf.

Speaking of loaves… I’ve been craving milk bread.

Milk Bread… mm-mm… the kind made with real milk and not milk powder. The sort I ate when I was young and when Bandra (in Mumbai) where I grew up, was dotted with numerous small bakeries. None of the fancy-schmancy patisserie or delicatessen sort of places which abound nowadays selling bread at crazy-assed prices. Just your regular old fashioned bakery, with big, hairy, sweaty, vest clad bakers who grunted out their greeting (who can blame the poor sod’s when they’re up all night) and handed you your warm, fresh loaf for a virtual pittance. I miss those days.

Now most of the milk bread recipes I came across were for sweet milk bread and I wasn’t in the mood for any of that. Plus I had a hunk of Parmesan that I wanted to see the end off. Which basically means that once its gone I have a legitimate excuse to rush to the fromagerie (oh who am I kidding! I mean the local deli which also stocks cheese) and pamper myself to a whole new selection of yumminess… ummmmmm.

So yeah, Parmesan it was and Rosemary, a 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of the former and 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of the latter… The +’s for sprinkling on top of the loaf before baking.

I used about 3 cups of all purpose flour, to 2 cups of warm low-fat milk and about 12gms of fresh yeast. Activating the yeast in the milk with a teaspoon of sugar. Adding it into the flour with 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil), mixing it in well, before sprinkling in the grated Parmesan and the Rosemary, and kneading it well. 

Prove the dough for 2 hours or till it more than doubles in size. Then knock it back and shape into a loaf.

Place into a prepared loaf-pan and allow to prove for another hour.

Brush the top of the loaf with an egg-wash… and score the top, before sprinkling on the extra cheese and rosemary. Bake the loaf in a 200 degrees C preheated oven for 35 minutes or till the top turns a nice golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool the loaf and turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Slice it up…. and Enjoy.

This loaf produced such a nice soft crumb and the flavour .was delicious, with the Parmesan and Rosemary coming through… but not too strong. A dish worthy of YeastSpotting.

I guess you don’t have to be a big, hairy, sweaty, vest clad baker to bake delicious milk bread… 😉

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I suppose my love for bread comes from being Goan, and having experienced the joys of beautifully baked bread whenever we visited Goa during our yearly summer vacations. From the basic Pao and Poee (Poi) to the Bakri and the ring shaped Kanconn, to the numerous varieties that the village ‘poder’ or baker delivered to our doorstep morning and noon, just in time for breakfast and tea. Every one of those loaves of bread so distinct, so full of flavour, and still warm, they dance around the edges of my tongue and my mind as I relive those memories… So many varieties, I can’t recall all their names.

Even back home, Bandra where I grew up was dotted with numerous Irani and the odd Goan bakery or two that made both the soft pao and its crustier cousin the brun pao. None of those packed loaves of the flavourless sliced variety, sitting encased in plastic bags, waiting, characterless and forlorn for someone to pick them up from the corner store made it to our table, at least not very often.

I’ve always wanted to bake delicious bread… forming it into loaves, shaping it… my love for clay and working with it made me figure that it wouldn’t be such a difficult task. And despite being a fine art, the process is really quite simple, with the easiest of ingredients… flour, water, salt and yeast… in some cases without the yeast. All it takes is love and a pair of caring hands.

And then comes what’s known as artisan bread… which is really nothing but small batches of focaccia, ciabatta, country loaves, sour-dough and baguettes among others, all hand-crafted and at times combined with an array of scrumptious ingredients, ranging from cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar or Mozarella to name a few) to sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, or even the finest olives… the list is endless.

Traditionally artisan bread is made in old-fashioned masonry ovens, but even a tiny regular home oven can produce the most amazing loaves of bread, and it isn’t all that difficult to make.

Here’s a Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I had the sun-dried tomatoes sitting in rosemary and garlic  infused olive oil for a week, just to develop a few more flavours and I used both the olive oil and the tomatoes for this recipe along with a generous handful of Parmesan and some parsley while working the dough.

After almost 2 hours of letting the soft elastic dough prove or rise…

Proving the Dough

… I  knocked it back (in a quick punching motion) and worked it a bit before placing it onto the baking tray to sit for an additional twenty to twenty-five minutes (I lined the tray with a bit of oil).

Knocked back... but not out!

Finally stretching out the dough using my fingertips and finishing it up by making a few rapid jabbing motions into the dough to give it that dimpled effect…

All Dimpled!

Brushing the top with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of oregano, chopped rosemary and a bit of rock salt… and it was oven ready…

Snug as a bug!

I took a tip from a Lesley Waters recipe I came across and sprayed the top of the focaccia with water a couple of times to allow it to steam as it baked…

And here it is…

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomatoes

I wanted to eat it no sooner it was out of the oven, but I turned it onto a rack to cool before slicing it… and wow!