FCG_beetroot_thyme_Coup_openingWhen it comes to cooking, I have an approach that’s more similar to my dad’s than to my mum’s. Although I inherited her pragmatic, no-nonsense food shopping habits, on occasions I find myself enveloped in vaguely obsessive, long term explorations of a certain dish, just like my dad does. We both seem to end up focusing on one thing and making it over and over again, with experimental variations and tweaks. It’s not an entirely unhealthy obsession – it slowly develops over time and, bar a few exceptions, there’s good food at the end of it. Take bread, for instance. I remember well my sister’s complaints – I must have been living in Florence then – when she kept finding inedible bricks of stodgy bread that my dad had set his heart on baking. Over the past few years, he’s turned his attention to jams and preserves – thankfully with much more successful results. With me, it’s been a range of dishes, the most prominent of which is probably pizza – something which I’ve improved over time but that I feel I’ll never be perfect at.

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FCG_beetroot_thyme_soup_no_toppingThen, late last year, I got into bringing a salad for lunch to the office with me every day. I’m normally pretty good at preparing my own lunch, only occasionally relying on Pret or one of the salads at the Central Library cafè, but usually that means packing dinner leftovers in a lunchbox or defrosting a bowl of soup. But it felt like I’d seen bowls of substantial and interesting salads popping up everywhere on the internet for months (Sprouted Kitchen and My New Roots are ace at them) and I felt like giving them a go. Never one to gingerly dip my toes into a new habit, I wholeheartedly embraced it and got into the swing of things by roasting up a storm every Sunday evening, cooking enough quinoa or buckwheat to last for 5 days and whipping up batches after batches of dubiously flavoured hummous to splodge onto the salad before closing the lid on the box and packing it in my bag. It lasted for two solid months before I started dreading Sunday evenings – too much work involved. March saw me fall back onto my old love: soups. And since here spring is only just starting to poke her head out, the soups I’ve made over the past few weeks have been firmly winter ones: lentils and parsnips, leeks and fennel, sweet potato and mushrooms, and this one, beetroot and thyme. I’ll be honest, I’m still not convinced by beetroot. Too earthy, although thyme helps. We’ll see how long it takes me to get bored of soups and devote my culinary efforts to something else…


Beetroot and thyme soup, with a chickpea and walnut topping

Over time I’ve grown to prefer a slightly thicker and smoother version of this soup. This means going easy on the stock – reducing it after blending the soup if needed – and blend it for longer. A mix of golden, red and Chioggia beetroot gives the soup a more complex colour, but the flavour will be the more or less the same regardless of what type of beetroot you use.

Ingredients for the soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 kg beetroot, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
chicken or vegetable stock, enough to cover the vegetables in the pot
Ingredients for the topping
1 can of chickpeas
a handful of walnut kernels, broken or roughly chopped
black pepper, freshly ground
extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large stockpot and gently saute the onion until translucent. Keep the heat low. Add the chopped garlic and stir. After a minute, add beetroots and thyme and stir. After a minute, add enough stock to just cover the vegetables. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Cook for half an hour or until the beetroot pieces can be easily pierced through with a fork. Take off the heat, fish the thyme sprigs out, blend the soup until smooth, then return the thyme sprigs in the soup and, if necessary, adjust the consistency by either adding more stock or reducing it on a low heat. In the meantime, prepare the topping by dry frying on a very low heat the drained and rinsed chickpeas. When crunchy, add the walnuts briefly to warm them up. Serve the soup in bowls, grind some black pepper, drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil and add some of the topping.