Chef Alistair Dibbs shares his recipe for sweetcorn and basil soup with goats' cheese and pesto bruschetta
Top chef Alistair Dibbs, from Little Hallingbury, extols the virtues of growing, cooking and eating your own food...
During any other year, mid-September would mark the time that the nights start to draw in, the sun sits lower in the sky and there is a distinctly autumnal feel in the air. But this is 2020, the year of the unexpected, the year that everything changed…
This trend is continuing in the garden with the Indian-style late summer renaissance we have been experiencing over the last couple of weeks. The warm September weather has tricked my vegetable patch into thinking that the clock has been turned back and we are in July again.
The tomatoes are not only producing more and more ripe fruit each day but are sprouting their yellow flowers again in readiness to produce new tomatoes. The warmth is reawakening the outdoor cucumbers again and my experimental aubergines are slowly but surely changing from tiny fingerlings to full-size beauties!
Even my grape vines planted in May last year have produced grapes, albeit still slightly sour!
The extended growing time gifted to us by the warm weather has even given my runner beans, which were mysteriously destroyed just after being planted out in the middle of June - my children strenuously deny it and blame the dog - time to grow and produce a decent crop.
At the same time the traditionally autumn vegetable varieties are coming on leaps and bounds too.
I have just picked my first home-grown pumpkin, which has grown incredibly well having been left completely to its own devices apart from semi-regular watering, and my butternut squashes are only a week away from being picked.
And my sweetcorn, grown from seed and planted at the beginning of May, has ripened beautifully.
I first grew sweetcorn last year with mixed results. I unwittingly planted it on the cooler side of the garden which prevented it ripening until October, narrowly missing the first frosts!
This year I planted it out in early June in the sunniest area of the garden and it was ready for picking at the beginning of September. It's actually really straightforward to grow your own and here are some of my top tips...
* Start seedlings in the greenhouse or on a windowsill around the end of April or beginning of May.
* Plant two seeds per small pot and discard the weakest when they are around 8cm tall.
* Feed them each week with a tomato feed.
* They are susceptible to late frosts and high winds so don't plant them until they are at least 30cm tall - early June is fine.
* Always plant them in a square formation rather than rows as they are wind pollinated rather than insect pollinated. It's important to leave at least 30cm between plants so they get lots of sun and air flow.
Sweetcorn is such a delicious vegetable to eat and has many uses in the kitchen.
It's also rich in vitamins, fibre and minerals. Its sweetness makes for a great accompaniment to meat dishes and is a mainstay on most BBQ menus. It is also great in a salad and even better in a salsa.
Sweetcorn's distinct flavour, sweetness and colour also makes a fantastic soup, like the one I am featuring this week.
Sweetcorn and basil soup with goats' cheese and pesto bruschetta
Sweetcorn has both a core (the part left when you remove the kernels) and the kernels themselves, and it is the use of the core that gives the flavour boost to this soup.
I have paired it with a crouton loaded with goats' cheese, sweetcorn kernels and basil pesto for a serious flavour hit.
Sweetcorn and basil soup with goats' cheese and pesto bruschetta
For the stock
6 cores from the sweetcorn ears
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
3 bay leaves
A couple of thyme sprigs
2 litres of cold water
For the soup
6 large ears of ripe sweetcorn
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, roughly diced
1 medium-sized Maris Piper potato, peeled and diced into 1cm chunks
150ml double cream or natural yoghurt
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
60ml olive oil
A handful of fresh basil, chopped
A small spoonful of yoghurt to serve
For the bruschetta
50g fresh basil
40g grated parmesan
2 cloves of garlic
30g pine kernels, lightly roasted and cooled down
30ml extra virgin olive oil
1 white baguette, preferably a day or two old
A small piece of firm goats' cheese (Katherine from the White Lake Dairy is a great one for this)
A handful of sweetcorn kernels, lightly boiled
Small basil leaves
To make the stock
To remove the kernels from the corn, trim the ends off the ear of corn so it stands up straight. Using a serrated knife, saw through the kernels, separating them from the cob. Repeat this all around the ear of corn until the core is free from kernels. Reserve the kernels and repeat the process with the remaining five ears. Cut through the cores cutting them into rough disks.
Place the cores in a medium pan and add all the other stock ingredients and cover with the water. Bring the stock to the boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes.
Drain the stock and pass it through a sieve, discarding all the vegetables, and leave to cool.
To make the soup
In a medium-sized heavy-based pan, heat half the olive oil on a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes, ensuring the onion is cooked through but with very little colour.
Add the garlic and celery and cook for another five minutes, then add some salt and pepper to help bring out the flavours.
Now add the diced potato and the sweetcorn kernels, sweat them in the pan for a couple of minutes and then pour on the stock. Bring it to the boil and then turn the heat down to a really low simmer.
Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potato is fully cooked, add the cream or yoghurt and drop in the butter before transferring the soup to a blender and blitzing it until it is very smooth. Set it aside and keep it warm until needed.
To make the bruschetta
Cut the baguette into thin slices on a slant, each one around 12cm long. Place them on an oven tray and bake them at 170C for 10 minutes until they are lightly golden brown.
Whilst they are cooking, make the pesto by blending the basil (reserving a few small leaves for garnish) nuts, garlic and parmesan in a blender or, for a more authentic result, a pestle and mortar. Add the olive oil too to form a thick paste and add some seasoning.
Remove the baguette slices from the oven and let them cool briefly. Spread the pesto onto the bread and, using a peeler, shave very thin slices of goats' cheese on top.
Sprinkle on some pine kernels and finish with some small basil leaves and a dash of olive oil.
Pour the soup into a bowl and add a dash of olive oil and a small scoop of yoghurt in the centre. Place the bruschetta on the side and serve.