Keep soup in the loop….Devilled Pepper, Courgette and Ham Soup to be specific…

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Keep soup in the loop....Devilled Pepper, Courgette and Ham Soup to be specific...

Midweek and with odd jobs of all sorts to do and to drive away the thought of the grim reaper weather lurking outside – mind he did have an anorak with him – I decided to go for a soup with a kick and a sense of heart too. Something to make you feel toasty inside.

So give this a go – especially if you ever have some ham left over from a joint.

For 4

1 courgette, sliced and diced
1 pepper – mine was yellow – but a red or orange one would be dandy
2 red onions finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Some dried chill flakes to taste – or a chopped deseeded red chilli
Black pepper
1 litre of chicken stock
Whatever ham you can muster – I used three slices chopped.
Olive oil

In a deep pan, fry the onion, courgette, garlic and onions until softening. Add the chilli. I used a teaspoon of dried red chilli flakes. Stir – then grind over a goodly grind of black pepper.
Then pour in the hot stock. Add 2/3rds of your ham. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, pop a lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Split the rest of the ham between your bowls and ladle over the soup. This was zingy and about as thrilling as soups get – Simple and effective as all the best soup recipes should be. So, keep soup in the loop this festive season!

p.s. maybe devilled was a bit over dramatic in the title but I wanted to give it a bit of drama and frankly it was worth it.

Anyway, it warmed the hell out of me!

Sunny Sundays were made for these…

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Sunny Sundays were made for these...

Lunch today out in the garden in what felt like the hottest day of the year to date was a simple affair but satisfying and mouth -filling. Not least as I was of a mind to make a plate of bocadillos – literally little mouthfuls. I bought a bag of these rather fab little bread rolls which came in a bag of 13 – a baker’s dozen – I popped them in the oven for 5 minutes at 160c – let them cool a little and filled them with a mix of sweet red chilli peppers called peppadews finely sliced, spring onions finely chopped, some Italian smoked ham, slivers of tomatoes and rocket. The faintest drizzle of olive oil finished them off. You can play about with the fillings – everything from manchego to parma ham to anchovies – just mix in whatever you have in. These are fun sandwiches. We sat out and munched on them with a crisp glass of white to wash them down. I have a new app called Mystic which is very creative when it comes to food photography so this is one of the first experiments with it. Anyways, this has been a good day and I hope you enjoyed your Sunday too. Bless you all!

Serrano ham…it has it all….and I love it!

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This is a picture of a dish I knocked up from bits and bobs one evening – grilled aubergine and tomatoes topped with Serrano ham, mozzarella and manchego……….Ah…Spain….my heart skips a beat just at the thought of it. I love Spain. I adore Spanish food. It is more than that though – it is passion -a real passion for such great produce….great people…earthy, fabulous cuisine….OK ..that’s enough! You get the picture! Amongst my favourite contributions to the food world by Spain is Serrano Ham….say it again Serrano…it rolls off the tongue. Some foods just sound sexy before you have even met them. There is nothing more Spanish than jamón serrano.

This country ham ( the hind leg of the white pig) is a national treasure shared in Spain by all walks of life. Cured for at least a year, it has a much deeper flavour and firmer texture than its closest relative, Italian prosciutto, and less fat. The word “serrano ” in Spanish refers to the sierra, or mountains. Jamón Serrano is traditionally produced in mountainous environments where the air is clean, the moisture levels just right and the winters very cold. These are the traditional requirements for curing. The hams are placed in sea salt for a brief period of time – approximately one day per kilo – and then they are strung up. They are allowed to experience the changes of temperature as the seasons progress. The right time to eat them is when an experienced ham-master inserts a long splinter of cow bone and whiffs the jamón, like a connoisseur of wine who sniffs the cork. You will see them all over Spain, hanging from the rafters in delicatessens and tapas bars.

You must also try, if you have not already, Iberico Ham. The essential difference between Jamón Serrano and the marvellous Ibérico Ham (commonly known as “pata negra” or “black-hoofed” ham) is the breed of pigs and the diet they are fed on. Its curing process is very long too (over 2 years, twice as long as serrano ham) and it has outstanding flavour and aroma, much down to how the pigs are raised. These are truly spoilt pigs!

Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities. The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (bellota being Spanish for acorn).

This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during the last stages of their lives. Oh, and it is also VERY expensive! But. like all the best things in life…just tell yourself …’you’re worth it’ and buy some!

It actually only accounts for around 8% of ham sales in Spain. Both types are mounted on special stands called ‘jamoneras’ in order to slice them thinly. As well as eating it cold, it is also great to use serrano ham in cooked dishes.

I always have serrano in the house…you should too. It is so versatile. My two children adore a breakfast I occasionally make on Sundays using quails’ eggs and serrano ham.

For 4 of you, fry 2 or 3 large slices of serrano shredded slightly in olive oil until crispy. Crack 8 quails eggs into a bowl. Add gently to pan with ham and fry them for a couple of minutes or until the whites turn opaque. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan and let it melt a little, then scatter over some fresh thyme leaves and a twist or three of black pepper. You can make this with regular eggs… but I prefer this version.

And if you are going to woo someone this weekend…woo them with serrano…!