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Italian Lentil Soup

18 Feb
© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

I think this may be my favourite soup ever. And for a girl who loves a big bowl of steaming soup, that is a big call.

Creamy aubergine, hearty lentils, meaty mushrooms and fresh tomato, all topped with a generous spoonful of delicious basil pesto – perfect. It may not look that pretty but it tastes soooo good. Looks can be deceiving!

When I made this soup for Mr B and I last weekend, we spent much of the meal discussing whether it was actually a soup – yes our meal time chatter is highly entertaining 😉

Is it a soup or is it in fact a stew?

It is chunky and hearty enough to be a stew I think but it is cooked on the stove top in a broth so technically it is probably a soup.

To settle the debate, we turned to almighty Google and looked up definitions of soup v stew – really entertaining dinner chat!

Here are our findings:

Soup: a liquid dish, typically savoury and made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables etc. in stock or water.

Stew: a dish of meat and/or vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan.

So our Italian ‘Soup’ is made by boiling vegetables and pulses in vegetable stock meaning it is a soup?

But our Italian ‘Soup’ is made of vegetables which are slowly cooked in liquid in a closed pan…so maybe it is a stew?

Clear as mud.

Wikipedia had the last word:

“Generally, stews have less liquid than soups, are much thicker and require longer cooking over low heat. While soups are almost always served in a bowl, stews may be thick enough to be served on a plate with the gravy as a sauce over the solid ingredients”

Given my recipe is not thickened in any way, definitely needs to be served in a bowl and does not require hours of long cooking, I’ll stick with it being a soup I think.

But to be frank, who cares. Stew or soup. Semantic shenanigans aside, it is a hearty, filling, healthy and downright delicious meal. I was just pleased to get a plant based meat free meal passed Mr B’s lips and to receive compliments as a result! High praise indeed, you gotta try this one!

© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

Let’s turn to the crowning glory of this meal, the pesto. Homemade fresh basil pesto is always best but use your favourite store bought if you prefer. I admit I did not make my own this time. Instead we added giant dollops of a jar of green pesto that I had picked up in Wholefoods – Seggiano Raw Basil Pesto Genovese. I had to sneak it into the basket past Mr B’s astonished gaze because, shall we say, it wasn’t the cheapest option on the pesto shelf. Ahem. But it was worth every penny. Vegan, gluten free and raw. Nothing but extra virgin olive oil, cashew nuts, fresh basil, sea salt and pine nuts. As clean eating as homemade. Delicious.

I served the soup with paleo flatbreads, recipe from the excellent new book, River Cottage Gluten Free by Naomi Devlin.

Now for the ‘soup’ recipe to which you add that giant dollop of basil pesto joy.

Italian Lentil Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten, dairy and soya free, Vegan (using dairy free pesto as I did)


  • 15g dried mushrooms (+ boiling water)
  • Splash of rapeseed oil
  • 1 potato (I used Maris Piper)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 leek
  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g can of green lentils, (265g drained weight)
  • 850 ml hot vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Basil pesto to serve


  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water, set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. Dice the potato (no need to peel) carrot, aubergine and tomatoes and thinly slice the leek.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium  heat on the stove.
  4. Add the potato, carrot and leek and saute for a few minutes
  5. Add the lentils, mix well and then add the aubergine and tomato.
  6. Add the stock to the pan to cover the vegetables (reserve the rest to add later if more liquid is needed), cover the pan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  7. After 20 minutes, add the dried mushrooms, their soaking liquid, the tamari and the dried basil. Add more stock if you think necessary.
  8. Cover the pan again and allow to continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, approximately 30 – 40 minutes total cooking time.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Serve in bowls, topping each with a generous spoonful of basil pesto.

If you use traditional pesto, i.e. one containing parmesan cheese, then this recipe is no longer vegan and dairy free. Adapt to your own dietary requirements.

So do you think it’s a soup or a stew?!

A Simple Soup

27 Oct
My Perfect Lunch © Jess Bruce 2015

My Perfect Lunch © Jess Bruce 2015

The simplicity of today’s recipe, with its short ingredient list and method, belies its true depth of flavour and sheer deliciousness. Warm, hearty, nourishing, quick, simple, versatile. This recipe has it all.

As much as I love making and eating dishes with many layers of spices and herbs and exotic ingredients, sometimes the most satisfying meal is actually quite simple. Here the fresh produce is allowed to sing for itself, enhanced merely with salt and pepper and a smattering of fresh parsley.

Hearty Vegetable Soup © Jess Bruce 2015

Hearty Vegetable Soup © Jess Bruce 2015

This soup is perfect for this time of year (it being Autumn in the northern hemisphere) bringing in the heavy hearty flavours of new season winter veg, with the  carrots, suede and sweet potato, vegetables akin to warming stews and soups of cold blustery days, whilst still showcasing the tail end of summer produce with courgette and green beans. You can of course switch up the vegetables you use depending on season and market availability. But stick to the principle of a lovingly melted down hearty base of root vegetables combined with a couple of handfuls of fresh green goodness and you’ll keep the happy outcome of a clean wholesome meal that will nourish you from the inside out. Seriously this is a dish you can feel virtuous eating without feeling any deprivation. Clean eating at its very best.

Use the freshest veg you can get your hands on and, if you can, make your own vegetable stock as the liquid base. Your taste buds will thank you. That said, I admit I used a cheat method on the stock, saving the water from boiled potatoes and carrots and enhancing it with a spoonful of vegetable bouillon powder to round out the flavour.

I like to serve a big steaming bowl of this soup with a slice of gluten free bread to dunk and soak up all the lovely veg flavour. Most perfect lunch ever.

A Simple Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten, dairy and nut free, vegan


  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced, skin left on
  • 1/2 a large suede, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • Handful of green beans, cut into bitesize pieces
  • 1 courgette, cut into bitesize pieces
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped curly leaf parsley
  • Splash of olive oil


  1. Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes until golden.
  2. Add the sweet potato, suede and carrots to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking to the pan.
  3. Pour in the vegetable stock. I used 1.5 litres in total (including the extra stock added at step 5) but here you really just need enough to cover the vegetables. Pop a lid on the pan, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and leave to cook for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are fork tender.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and lightly mash with a potato masher until the root vegetables are broken down. (You could pop it all into a blender or use a stick blender if you prefer a smoother finish to your soup but I prefer the coarser texture of mashing. Up to you).
  5. Return the pan with the mashed vegetables to the hob and add in the courgette and green beans and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through. You want to retain a little bit of bite to the green veg so it contrasts with the softness of the mashed roots. You may need to add a little more stock when you add the courgette and green beans depending on how thin/thick you want your soup.
  6. Season to taste with a generous grind of black pepper and a good pinch of sea salt.
  7. Sprinkle in the parsley, stir and you’re ready to serve.

Honouring the Egg: A Summer Quiche

9 Sep
My quiche in all its glory © Jess Bruce 2015

My quiche in all its glory © Jess Bruce 2015

The egg. Perhaps the humblest food there is. A great source of protein and the foundation of so many quick and simple meals.

For nearly 18 months I didn’t eat eggs. Along with a host of other foods, following food intolerance testing, I removed egg from my diet. I embraced vegan baking using egg replacers such as applesauce, mashed banana, flaxseed and chia seeds to bind ingredients. Turns out eggs are fairly easily replaced in baked goods. An egg-less quiche even became a common lunch for me – intrigued? Mixing together gram flour and water, leaving it to froth for a few hours, once baked creates a texture amazingly akin to the egg filling of a quiche.

After seeing my digestion and overall ME/CFS symptoms improve over the year or so following my restricted diet, it was time to try re-introducing the banned foodstuffs. The theory goes that a 12 month absence from eating a food to which you were intolerant, will, in most cases, heal your gut to the point where you can reintroduce the food without reaction. It doesn’t work in all cases, it depends how severe your intolerance was to start with – I haven’t been able to successfully reintroduce gluten and dairy for example, as my last post shows.

The humble egg was the first food I reintroduced and I am very happy to say that it was successful. I now eat eggs two or three times a week. They make the perfect quick lunch – scrambled eggs with basil pesto on toast is my go to when I’m feeling  lazy tired.

Although I do still make the chickpea based egg free quiche – I like to mix up my proteins, and still eat plenty of plant based meals – an egg full quiche is firmly back on the menu.

Pastry case after blind baking © Jess Bruce 2015

Pastry case after blind baking © Jess Bruce 2015

Pastry Power

A quiche of course doesn’t just call for eggs. It calls for delicious pastry too; not an easy fix when it has to be gluten and dairy free. I have been gluten free for over 10 years now. I remember the first gluten free pastry my Mum and I made. It was my first gluten free Christmas and we tried to make gluten free mince pies. The pastry could have shattered glass. Or broken a tooth as you bit into it. It was very hard and totally unyielding.

Ten years on however, after much trial and error, my Mum has cracked Jess Friendly pastry. For lunch in the run up to the wedding, Mum made a quiche with a light, flaky shortcrust pastry that literally melted in your mouth. It had a lovely wholemeal flavour from using oat flour. You would never have guessed it was gluten and dairy free.

I have made the quiche twice since Mum’s wedding week one. And the pastry worked beautifully both times, even though the first time was my first attempt at making pastry ever. Gluten free or gluten full. Somehow, despite a love of cooking, I had reached the age of 31 without making pastry. It wasn’t perfect to look at, but it tasted very good which is all that matters in my eyes.

Some gluten free pastries suggest rolling out between two pieces of clingfilm, I didn’t need to do this with this pastry, but it may help. Pastry is a challenging friend, so do whatever helps you get it into the baking dish! I would say though do not chill the pastry in the fridge before rolling out. In my Mum’s (pastry chef extraordinaire) experience that just makes the pastry hard once baked.

Summer produce ready to be the quiche filling © Jess Bruce 2015

Summer produce ready to be the quiche filling © Jess Bruce 2015

Back To The Egg

My quiche filling was less successful the first time around than my maiden pastry voyage. After blind baking the pastry, I followed the guidance of a famous British celebrity chef (who shall remain nameless) whose recipe said to bake the quiche for 15 minutes and then the egg mixture would be set. Erm no. I baked it for 25 minutes and then thought it was done. It was firm to the touch in the centre. But on cutting into it, there was still a steady stream of liquid egg. Although I definitely wouldn’t advocate eating semi cooked quiche, it did taste very nice! I can thank the pancetta and caramelised onion filling for the delicious flavour rather than the runny egg.

Second attempt at quiche making resulted in the recipe and photos that I am sharing today. Even if I say so myself, it looks mighty fine! This time I ignored Mr celebrity chef’s advice and asked my Mum – Mum’s know best correct? Correct! Mum advised a much longer cooking time and the result was a perfectly set egg filling to the quiche, moist but not runny. And the pastry again was delicious, light and flakey.

Quiche comes in hundreds of different guises. My recipe here is for a vegetarian filling. I used a bounty of summer produce – sautéed courgette, slow roasted tomatoes and caramelised red onion. If you don’t have to avoid dairy,  feta or goats cheese would be an amazing addition. Or if you’re an avid meat eater then smoked ham or bacon would be delicious too. The pastry recipe is the star here, beyond that go forth and be adventurous with your choice of filling!

Here’s the recipe:

A Summer Quiche

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Gluten, dairy, nut and soya free


For the Pastry:

  • 100g rice flour
  • 100g oat flour (I grind my own from gluten free oats) + extra for rolling
  • 1/2 tsp xanthum gum
  • 80g solid vegetable fat (I use Trex)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6-8 tbsp of cold water (I chill a jug in the fridge to ensure the water is cold before use)

For the Summer Quiche Filling:

  • 6 eggs
  • 5 slow roasted tomatoes (I used a recipe from the Intolerant Gourmet‘s first book)
  • 2 red onions
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1 courgette
  • rapeseed oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Sesame seeds


For the Pastry:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220ºC (fan oven 200ºC)
  2. Line the base of an 8 inch round shallow dish with baking parchment and grease the edges of the dish with rapeseed oil
  3. Sift the flours into a large bowl, add the xanthum gum and salt, stir to mix together
  4. Cut the vegetable fat into small pieces and add to the bowl
  5. Rub the fat into the dry ingredients with your fingers until you have a breadcrumb type texture
  6. Gradually add the cold water, 1 tbsp at a time,  mixing with a metal spoon as you go. You need enough to bind the crumbs together but you do not want it too wet or sticky
  7. Once the crumbs have started to come together, gently kneed the dough with your hands for a couple of minutes until it forms a ball
  8. Place the ball on a floured surface and gently roll it out into a thin circle (mine was about 1/2 cm thick I think) and then, the trickiest part, place it into your prepared dish. Do not be afraid to patchwork your pastry if there are any cracks or holes. The egg filling will seal it all together later
  9. Lightly prick the base all over with a fork
  10. Place a piece of baking parchment paper over the base and cover with baking beans
  11. Bake blind for 10-12 minutes.

For the Summer Quiche Filling:

  1. Whilst the pastry case is baking, prepare the filling by cracking the eggs into a basin and lightly whisking with a fork
  2. Slice the onions into half moons and add to a frying pan with a little seasoned rapeseed oil. Once the onions have started to soften and brown add the vinegar and sugar and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes until nicely caramelized.
  3. Slice the courgette into thin strips, cut length ways. Heat a little rapeseed oil in another frying pan and sauté the strips for a few minutes until softened
  4. Once your pastry case is cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Reduce your oven temperature to 180ºC (fan oven 160ºC)
  5. Arrange onions, tomatoes and courgette slices in your pastry case before pouring over your whisked eggs. Finish by sprinkling sesame seeds over the top
  6. Bake for 40 minutes or until firm in the centre (I used the clean tooth pick test to be sure), allow to cool slightly before cutting into slices.

Do you have a favourite quiche filling? Or any tips for working with pastry? Don’t be shy, please share in the comments below!

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