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Another day of snow, freezing cold winds and a frozen garden, winter isn’t done with us yet.  Today we had alternate sunny spells with blue skies, and blizzard-like conditions as the snow blew in.

Cardoon

In the greenhouse, the seed trays I sowed a couple of weeks ago, in the hope of getting some early salad leaves, are tucked up in a layer of fleece to try to keep the worst of the cold off the emerging seedlings.  The autumn-sown sweet peas are toughing it out on the greenhouse bench – they’ve seen snow before.

Sweet peas

Out in the garden, the garlic was just starting to put on some growth but is now dusted with the white stuff.  And the lovely crocus flowers that were opening wide to embrace last week’s sunshine, have remained firmly shut and are huddling down into the grass.

Crocus

And so it was another day for something warming and filling for lunch – yup, another soup day.  There seem to have been an awful lot of soup days this winter.  This time the soup was inspired by March’s Recipes for Life challenge.  The challenge is hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash and run in conjunction with Swallow, a charity helping adults with learning difficulties to lead more independent lives.

The idea is to use three ingredients to create a tasty, easy to make recipe – this month the three are beetroot, carrots and cheese.  And these three ingredients ended up as a bowl of carrot and beetroot soup, with cheesy croutons for dunking.

Just right to help keep the winter blues at bay… How is winter where you are?

Soup

Carrot & beetroot soup with cheesy croutons

(makes enough for 4 hearty bowlfuls)

For the soup –

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 leeks, cleaned, roots and green parts removed

2 cloves garlic, crushed

4 medium sized carrots

2 tsp ground cumin

500ml vegetable stock

3 cooked beetroot

salt and pepper

For the croutons –

2 or 3 slices of French stick per person

a little extra virgin olive oil

a small amount of crumbled Wensleydale cheese

freshly ground black pepper

Put the oil and butter into a medium sized saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the butter has melted.  While the oil and butter are heating, slice the leeks in half lengthways, then chop them into small pieces.  Add the leeks to the pan and cook gently for about five minutes, until they start to soften.  Add the garlic, stir and cook for another two minutes.

Peel the carrots and cut off the top and bottom of each one.  Chop the carrots into chunks about 1cm thick.  Add the carrots and ground cumin to the leeks in the pan, and stir so that everything is mixed and coated in oil.  Leave to cook for two minutes, then add the stock.  Bring the soup to the boil, turn down the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Cut each beetroot into quarters and add them to the pan.  Cook for another few minutes.  Take the pan off the heat, and blend it to a nice smooth consistency using either a blender or stick blender.

Put the soup back in the pan and taste it to check the flavour – and add some salt and pepper to get it just right.  If the soup is too thick, add some more stock to thin it out a little.  On a gentle heat, warm the soup through again before serving.

While the soup is warming, make the croutons.  Put the slices of French stick onto a baking sheet and toast one side under the grill.  Turn each slice over and drip a little olive oil onto the untoasted side.  Top each slice with some crumbled Wensleydale and a grinding of black pepper and put the baking sheet back under the grill for a couple of minutes to warm the cheese through.

Spoon the warm soup into bowls.  Add a spoonful of Greek yoghurt or soured cream to the top if you like, and serve with the croutons.

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