Thursday, March 30, 2006

Soup and Béchamel

So here comes the first variation on béchamel – cheese sauce. It’s the same thing as béchamel, but with a pinch of cayenne added at the start, and grated cheddar added at the end. Boom boom, no sweat. Nigella gives the cheese sauce recipe, but doesn’t suggest a use for it, so I looked to another domestic goddess, my friend Clarice, (a.k.a. DG) for an idea. She has a recipe for a cheesy aubergine bake, which sounded too delicious to pass up. I made it for lunch today, and in addition, I decided to make Nigella’s vegetable soup, which directly follows the béchamel recipe in the Basics etc. chapter.

313. Cheese Sauce (Basics etc.)
314. Vegetable Soup (Basics etc.)

The vegetables in the vegetable soup are an onion, carrots, a turnip, a parsnip, a potato, a stalk of celery, and a leek. On the page, it looked like a lot, but fabulously, when I walked into Coles, I discovered this thing called “Soup Mix”, which contains all of those vegetables (except the leek), in correct quantities, neatly shrinkwrapped and arranged on a Styrofoam tray, for only $2.97. SCORE! I did buy a separate leek though; it was $1.28.

soup mix

Anyway, the soup is very easy to make. You start by peeling and chopping all the vegetables…

cut and diced

…and then chopping them medium-fine in a processor. From there, you cook the vegetables gently in some oil and butter until softened, add a litre of stock and a bouquet garni. Then you can just leave the pot alone, letting the soup simmer for about 40 minutes.

While this was simmering, I got on with DG’s aubergine bake.

This dish has 3 components made in 3 different pans (aubergines, tomatoes, white sauce), which can either be done all at once or one after the other depending on how dexterous and confident you are! The cheeses do make a difference, but feel free to substitute them depending on what you have in the fridge!

I was feeling quit dexterous today, (and hungry too!), so I made it all at once. DG says to use mozzarella cheese in the cheese sauce, but as Nigella's cheese sauce uses cheddar, I felt that I had to go with that option. Basically, for this recipe, you fry eggplant slices and tomato slices until slightly softened, and then layer them in a baking dish with cheese sauce and feta cheese.

cheese sauce

1st layer

cheese sauce and tomato


Ready for oven

Clarice says to finish with a layer of aubergine slices, and then sprinkle with grated parmesan, before baking at 200C for 20-30 minutes. When it was cooked, it looked all hot and bubbly, so I let it sit, out of the oven, while I finished off the soup.

To do this, all you need to do is add a bit of sherry to the pot, and then process the soup until it reaches a desirably soup-like texture, (which all depends on preference). I like mine to be smooth enough that you don’t see the vegetables, but chunky enough for you to feel them. If that makes any sense at all. I was kinda scared whizzing up piping hot soup, but I did it on a low speed, and covered up the processor chute, so luckily there were no dangerous spurts of hot liquid anywhere.

piping hot soup

And then it was time to eat.

Baked bake – served with balsamic salad

Soup bowl

Nigella’s vegetable soup is amazing. Daniel only took one spoonful before declaring it “instantaneously brilliant”, and I must say I totally agree with him. What a simple and delicious way to eat your vegetables.

I absolutely loved Clarice's cheesy aubergine bake, but I knew all along that I would. I mean, a recipe by Clarice? Containing aubergines? Tomatoes? 3 cheeses? You can't go wrong with that!

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