A view from my cupboard (and spicy tomato, kale and bean soup)

IMG_2117After weeks of raking around the UK, house-sitting for various moggies and doggies, and catching up with friends and families, we have finally moved in to our new house in Cornwall. I use the term ‘moved in’ very loosely. Our stuff has been delivered from storage and we are camping on the ground floor while the upper floor is gutted and made beautiful again. We hope so, anyway.

The views are lovely, the garden is an amazingly lush sub-tropical jungle and the neighbours are friendly. On the downside, we have no kitchen at all, just an empty space with a couple of gas and water pipes poking up out of the floor, and shall we just say that bathroom facilities are functional, but not necessarily stylish…

Instead of the usual view from my kitchen window of the Mediterranean’s particularly turquoise patch, complete with obligatory Greek island plonked in the background, at the moment I have no view at all. In fact, I am cooking in the utility cupboard. Here it is in all its glory:

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Note the forward tilt of the butler’s sink!

At least I have a sink with running hot water, a washing machine and dryer (but sadly no dishwasher), a microwave and a hastily-purchased two-ring camping hob. The fridge/freezer is standing in the conservatory on the upper floor, which means an awful lot of stair climbing every time we need something – I am sure it is good exercise for some long-forgotten muscle group or other. The sink is quaint – it tilts forward so that the water falls away from the plughole instead of going down it, and something leaks – I keep getting wet feet. I have started to think I might cook in my wellies.

The first night we were here, we abandoned all plans of cooking, and tumbled down the steps through the woods to our local pub, the Norway Inn.

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This is a mighty fine establishment, where we were looked after by the lovely Rod, who has worked there since he was a lad and now appears to run the place almost single-handed with great aplomb. Sensing he had a pair of exhausted and highly-strung house-movers on his hands, he soothed our brows, led us to the fantastic Sunday carvery and practically rigged up a drip so that we could mainline Pinot Gris. He then surprised us by being able to speak Turkish – OK, not that much, but it did keep us entertained. Of course we over-indulged in the Yorkshire pudding and roasted veggies department, and felt like we needed wheelbarrows in which to lodge our stomachs for the climb back up to the house, but the whole experience was a lifesaver. I may move house every Sunday. And Rod is definitely getting Turkish delight when we come back from our next Turkey trip – and I mean the good stuff, the real stuff with the hazelnuts and pistachios, not the vile artificially-scented gum they sell to gullible tourists.

Yesterday, we planned to have a diet day. It went very wrong at an early stage – we have been deprived of Shreddies for so long that the temptation of having a large boxful of the little beauties on the shelf in the cooking cupboard was too much. Just a small bowl though. Then we had to go to Truro and St Austell to do jobs. Part way through the Truro jobs list, hunger got the better of us and we ended up sharing a Cornish pasty. Not good. In an attempt to counter this appalling diet day behaviour, I made soup for dinner last night – it was quite hearty though, so probably didn’t count as diet day fodder at all. Never mind, there will always be another diet day.

The soup was great, just the ticket for a wet and chilly late-summer evening. The Tesco cornbread was also pretty good (and clearly had no calories).

As usual with soup, you can substitute whatever veggies you have to hand, and the butter beans can be replaced with any kind of bean or even chick peas. In fact, chick peas would be particularly good here. I stuck with Mediterranean-type herbs, as I have a huge potful standing outside the back door, but coriander would be very good too. I had no stock (there’s a limit to what you want to do in a cupboard), so I used a Kallo cube – just use whatever you wish. Don’t worry too much about the size of your veggies – just remember you want everything to fit onto a spoon.

Prepare yourselves for photography that is even more amateur than usual, owing to a lack of light, equipment (and obviously photographic prowess!)

Spicy tomato, kale and bean soup

Serves 4 – 5

1 tablespoon olive oil (and a knob of butter if you are not keeping this vegan)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and green parts, halved lengthways and then shredded
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
2 medium carrots, diced (no need to peel)
½ of a fennel bulb, cut into two, core removed and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, grated or finely chopped
A handful of new potatoes, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or ordinary paprika or a large pinch of chilli flakes)
½ a teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can chopped tomatoes
A couple of sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and a handful of parsley
1 can butter beans (or other beans), drained
A handful of French beans, cut into small pieces
1 litre stock (a cube is fine)
A couple of handfuls of shredded kale (you could use Savoy cabbage, chard or spinach, but the kale is nice and crunchy if you add it at the end)
A pinch of sugar

Parmesan cheese to finish (optional)


Heat the oil (and butter, if using) in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onions and leeks, cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes until they have softened.

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Add the celery, carrots, fennel and garlic and cook for a further minute or two.

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One the vegetables have all started to soften, stir in the smoked paprika, cinnamon and the tomato paste and continue cooking for a minute or two, then stir in the tin of tomatoes and the stock. Chop the leaves from the rosemary and thyme, and the stalks from the parsley (save the parsley leaves for the end), and add those to the soup, along with the can of beans.

Add the potatoes and French beans, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil.

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Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes, then add the kale and continue cooking for another couple of minutes, depending on how well cooked you like your greens. If the soup is too thick, add a little hot water.

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Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar as needed. Stir in the chopped parsley leaves and serve in warm bowls with plenty of grated Parmesan or Pecorino, or any other cheese you fancy. Be sure to dress the table with cheap Ikea plastic table-mats, as they add to the authenticity of the occasion and it is particularly good if the crockery doesn’t entirely match.

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