Smoked Welsh Mussel + Moroccan Spiced Milk Soup with Fried Sunchoke Gnocchi

It seemed rather strange at first to come back to slate coloured clouds and the bare trees of England after spending a little less than a week in Marrakech. Part of me, naturally, already longed to feel the strength of the sun’s rays on my arms and face while being exposed to the wonderfully lingering aromas of mint tea and spices on the evening breeze. Nevertheless, there is something indescribably comforting about sleeping in one’s own bed and returning to the familiar, daily routines of life, that surpasses the purest pleasures of travel.

The early hours of Saturday morning, however, found me laying awake, listening to the meditative song of groaning trees as they swayed aggressively to the will of the howling winds. Unable to rest, I took leave of the warmth of my bed for the refuge of my kitchen. Sourcing, preparation and eating of food, have all become sacred rituals to me; moments of the day when I can recompose my scattered thoughts, appreciate and accept the abundance of nature, and most importantly, to find myself during instances of uncertainty and doubt.

As I began to examine the last of the weeks vegetables, contemplating whether to prepare a winter pastilla, or even a bric pastry, my eyes caught sight of the reflective surface of a glass jar in the far corner of the cooler. Confused and intrigued, I rummaged deeper, to bring it to the surface of light.  I must confess, that I have been guilty of building jar forests before, lost behind a refrigerator-scape of packaged goods, cartons and juices. Upon rediscovery however, a surge of delight overwhelmed me as I read the label: Moroccan Spiced Chutney. Eagerly, I spread the preserve over a thick slice of wholemeal bread and cheddar cheese; a swift reminiscent act to indulge my senses in its captivating, moorish aromas.

Engaged in deliberation on how to amalgamate the array of flavours on my kitchen counter, I begun my pilgrimage into the mindful art of slow cooking.

Sofrito Base

Makes: 750g
Cooking time: 5+ hrs (day ahead)

This base provides a beautiful depth of flavour to this soup. I wanted to use the leftover seasonal fruit in my refrigerator, but you can of course use tomatoes or paprika peppers instead of the apples and pears used in this recipe. This recipe makes enough so that you can store or freeze the rest for later.

2 medium apples (approx. 200g)
1 pear (approx. 180g)
2 yellow onions (approx. 550g)
1 chilli, finely diced
5-6 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 shallot
250ml vegetable oil
1/4 tbsp of orange zest
1/4 tsp dried sage, crumbled
1/4 tsp white pepper, ground
1/2 tsp saffron salt (recipe to follow)
5-6 tbsp English Provender Moroccan Spiced Chutney
pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 110c (230f) or, if using a fan-assisted oven, 90c. Finely dice the apples, pears, onions, shallot, chilli and garlic, and lay evenly on a deep oven pan. Pour the oil over and place on the hob on a high heat. When the oil begin to bubble, begin stirring for a minute or so, before turning off the heat, covering the pan with foil and placing in the oven. Check and stir occasionally to ensure even browning. Cook for three hours. Take the pan out of the oven, add the zest, English Provender Moroccan Spiced Chutney, sage, white pepper and salts. Cook for a further 1 1/2-2 hours, or until golden brown (keep checking and stirring the sofrito to ensure even colour). Take out of the oven and cool. Place in a blender and blend till smooth but slightly chunky. Store in cool place, use within 5 days (you can also freeze the sofrito in an ice cube carton to use in soups or in sauces).

Saffron Salt

Makes: 2 tbsp
Cooking time: 10 minutes

4-6 threads of saffron
2tbsp coarse salt

Grind the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Place the salt into the mortar with 1/4tsp of water. Stir gently with a spoon to allow the saffrons golden hue to diffuse into the salt. Place on a a slip of baking parchment or a dish to air dry. Can be used straight away or stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

Milk Soup

Makes: 6-8 servings
Cooking time: 1 hour

350g turnips
1 white onion
135g leeks, tops removed
1 small potato
1tbsp butter extra for frying
1tbsp flour
600ml full fat milk
2 bay leaves, crushed
1/2tsp sugar
1tsp saffron salt
1/2tsp celery salt
1tbsp tumeric
1/2tsp cumin
black pepper, to taste
150ml chicken stock
200ml sofrito (recipe above)

Begin by chopping the turnips, leeks, potato and onion and then placing in a saucepan with butter. Turn on the heat to high heat and fry until the onions begin to sweat. Turn the heat down to medium and pour kettle boiled water over the vegetables to cover. Leave to boil and cook for 20-25 or until all the vegetables are cooked. Turn off the heat, drain in a colander and place in a blender with the chicken stock. Blend till smooth.

Now, in a pan over medium heat, place in the butter and flour to make a roux and cook for 3 minutes (to eliminate the uncooked flour taste) and pour in the milk. Stir gently to incorporate. Place in a the bay leaves, sugar and the saffron and celery salts. Continue stirring until simmering. Pour the vegetable pureé and sofrito into the milk and mix well. Add the black pepper, cumin and tumeric and stir. The colour of the soup should be a yellow colour. If desired, season to taste.

Smoked Mussels

Cooking time: 2+ hours

1kg mussels, cleaned with beards removed
200g oak wood chips
1 1/2tbsp black forest honey
2tbsp walnut oil
1 lemon, halved
2 garlic cloves, bruised
100ml white wine

Place the cleaned mussels in a saucepan (tip: discard any open or broken mussels. If you tap on the shell of open mussels and they do not close up tightly, discard them) with the white wine, lemon juice and lemon halves and garlic. Place the saucepan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure the flavours incorporate and when the liquid begins to boil, place lid over the pan and allow to steam for 3-4 minutes or until the mussels are open. Discard any that do not. Place the cooked mussels into a bowl with the cooking liquids, walnut oil and the honey and leave to marinate for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure that all the mussels are coated.

To prepare to smoke the mussels in an oven, you need to pinch together the long edges of two long strokes of tin foil, making one wide tinfoil sheet. Take these strokes long enough, because later you will need to wrap up everything that you will put into the oven, including the oven rack and a roasting pan. Now open your oven and push the middle part of your wide tinfoil sheet against the back wall of your oven, so that you basically create a wide access to place the roasting tin and rack within. Now, place the wood chips into a roasting pan with a small amount of water to dampen the wood. Place the roasting pan at the bottom of your oven, on the bottom sheet of tinfoil. Take the mussels out of the marinate and place each one gently onto an oven proof rack nonadjacent to the bars (I used the oven rack that came with my oven, the gap between each bar is 1 inch) and place over the roasting pan. Now, wrap the tinfoil around both the roasting pan and the rack with the mussels to ensure no smoke escapes. Start the oven and turn up the heat to 120c (100c fan assisted) 248f. Allow to smoke for 1-2 hours.

Sunchoke Gnocchi

Makes: 6-8 servings for the soup, 1-2 servings if eaten on its own.
Cooking time: 1+ hours

250g sunchokes
1 egg, beaten
75g plain flour + extra
1/4tsp salt, fine
1/4tsp white pepper, ground

Begin by peeling the sunchokes. Cut into small cubes and place in a saucepan filled with water and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat on and when the water begins to boil, stir the sunchokes occasionally until cooked. This should take 15-20 minutes. (Tip: to check if they are cooked, simply pick up a sunchoke from the pan with a sharp knife. If it falls off the knife smoothly, it is done, if it resists or does not budge, however, it still needs more time). Drain in a colander and then either mash or place in a blender until smooth. Place the pureéd sunchokes into a bowl with the egg, salt and pepper and stir. Slowly add the flour (add extra if required) until a smooth dough is formed. Cut into four pieces and roll out each piece, like an elongated sausage until approximately 2cm wide. Cut these into little pieces (I like to cut them between 3-4cm lengthways). Using a fork, mark each dumpling with the back of the piece of cutlery to give them their signature physical appearance. Place in a boiling saucepan filled halfway with water and drop approximately 10 dumplings (do not overcrowd the pan) in at a time. When they are cooked, which will be approximately 3-4 minutes, they will rise to the surface of the water. Take out with a slotted spoon and pat dry. You can eat them as is. If however, you want to fry homemade gnocchi, leave to dry for 1-2 hours, sprinkling them with a little flour when dry enough and then fry in a saucepan until golden with butter or, the oil from the lardons (see below).

Optional extra

50g Lardons
40g Samphire

Fry and sauteé with gnocchi, until the lardons are golden and the samphire is soft. Place onto of the soup with the mussels and gnocchi.

To serve, place the lardons, samphire and sunchoke gnocchi into bowls and pour the soup over. Add the mussels and some leftover English Provender Moroccan Spiced Chutney on top. Grate with cheese and eat with bread.

This post is an entry into the #JarAmnesty Challenge with The English Provender Co and Foodies100.

Thank you for reading.
Enjoy x