This was supposed to be a nice minestrone soup. The summer rain was pelting down on the roof of the conservatory and the Critic had just phoned to say that he was coming home from work early as he had the flu. I looked at my selection of fresh summer vegetables and started skimming the cookbooks and decided minestrone would be the perfect use for my seasonal vegetables. According to Marcella Hazan, I would need tomatoes (check), garlic (check), onions (check), zucchini (check), borlotti beans...no check. Or, rather to be precise, no cooked beans and the dried ones in my cupboard would take too much time to prepare. Never mind, I thought. I'll just pop down to the village shop. They have everything there. Everything but cans of Italian or French white beans as it happens. But the shop did have canned chickpeas, which set my mind off in another direction: Morocco. The Critic isn't overly fond of North African food, but I figured if it was spicy and didn't include couscous (which he can't abide for some reason) he'd never complain. I hurried home and started searching the cupboards for the elusive tube of harissa I knew was lurking there somewhere. And I found it: with a split side, spicy paste oozing everywhere and a sell-by date of 2007. Good heavens, the stuff was older than my youngest child!
And so in the end - I chucked the cookbooks and just started cooking. And really, I'm delighted that I didn't have the ingredients I wanted in the cupboard, because the soup turned out delicious: coriander and cayenne spiced the soup without overpowering the sweet tomatoes and zucchini. Chickpeas gave the bowl a satisfying bite and a bit of weight. It was hot, sweet, spicy and full of summer goodness, the perfect foil for a bout of the flu.
Spicy Zuke Soup (makes four bowls at 3 WeightWatchers points each)
When I told the Critic I was making soup for dinner, I did not say "Hey, I'm thinking of making a spicy courgette and chickpea soup." I know my man too well. I told him I was making a spicy tomato and turkey soup. He was delighted as I knew he would be. His face fell, admittedly, when he saw how much zucchini was in his bowl. But he came back for seconds, and not because he was being polite. Use smallish tender zucchini if you can as they will hold up better in a soup and have more flavor than the big overgrown ones. (Use the big ones in zucchini bread, where no one will notice.)
1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and then minced roughly
250 g turkey breast meat, cubed
3 tomatoes, cubed
1/2 can of tomatoes (replace with 3 more fresh tomatoes if you have them, but we haven't hit full season here yet)
2 medium zucchini or summer squash, cubed (I had one green and one yellow, which made a prettier soup)
1 chili pepper - medium hot, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
700 ml chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 can (about 300 g) cooked chickpeas (in the US these are often called garbanzo beans)
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame and then add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes until the onions become soft and translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking another five minutes. Turn up the heat slightly and add the turkey. Quickly brown on all sides, taking care to stir frequently so that the garlic and onions don't burn. Don't worry about cooking the meat through, as it will be cooked in the stock as well. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and chili pepper and stir for a moment. Add the spices and cook until they start giving off an aroma. Add the rest of the ingredients and use a spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan if any of the meat or garlic or onions have browned on there. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the zucchini are just cooked through. Taste for seasoning. At this point, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice to balance the sweet tomatoes; you may not need it if your tomatoes are not too sweet. Serve in big bowls with lots of freshly baked bread and sweet butter if you have it.