(30 Days of Vegan) Day 11: Pesto Soup with Greens and Gnocchi

If you have not yet read my post about why I am going vegan for a month, you should.

By Thursday I was back into cooking. Before I started being vegan, I asked friends on Facebook to recommend good vegan food blogs I could look through for recipe ideas. The following were some of the suggestions I received:

– Peas and Thank You: http://www.peasandthankyou.com/

– The Post Punk Kitchen: http://www.theppk.com/

– Appetite Affliction: http://appetiteaffliction.com/

– The Vegan Mouse: http://theveganmouse.blogspot.co.uk/

Suddenly it was as if there were too many options, and I found the task of going through so many recipes a little daunting. I did not really attempt to do so for the first week. But in planning what to make for lunch on Thursday, I finally clicked through some recipes at random until I found one on Post Punk Kitchen that I really wanted to try. It is called a ‘soup’ but it is more like a thick stew, or like having lots of pasta sauce covering chard leaves, gnocchi and cannellini beans. It is extremely healthy, and a happy change from all the real soups we had been eating.

Vegan Menu, Day 11

Breakfast – Weetabix with Soy Milk

Lunch – Pesto Soup with Greens and Gnocchi (see below for the recipe)

Dinner – (From Vinnie’s Pizza, Brooklyn) 1/2 a slice of pizza with (all vegan) bbq chicken, bacon, mozzarella, cheddar, bbq sauce; 1/2 a slice of pizza with (all vegan) teriyaki chicken, broccoli, mozzarella, cheddar, sesame seeds.

I had a hair cut in the afternoon, so thought that was an opportunity to call it a day and went for drinks afterwards with friends. Actually, I managed to walk the entire way to the hairdresser not realising that my dress was inside-out, so I ended up needing a drink just to suppress my embarrassment. As Nick and I walked home around dinner time, I experienced an intense frustration and laziness. Everything I could think of that I wanted to eat wasn’t vegan. I couldn’t be bothered taking the time to cook at home. I just wanted to give up on the whole thing and have some thai food, made with fish sauce, with prawns, followed by milk chocolate. But Nick managed not only to listen to listen to my whinging to a satisfactory degree, but insisted that we go to a pizza place round the corner from us that did vegan pizza. We had eaten from Vinnie’s Pizza before – they deliver to happy hour at the Brooklyn Brewery, and they make an amazing ‘quesadilla pie’ pizza with avocado, pico de gallo, nacho chips, cheddar cheese, mozzarella, sour cream. They also seem like pretty awesome people. I had never even considered getting a vegan pizza from there before, though, thinking that it could never be as good as a non-vegan pizza. On Thursday night, I was proved wrong. Even as we entered the shop we could hear another couple asking about what their vegan pizzas were (there were many options to choose from). We picked the ‘Tiger Style’ (teriyaki ‘chicken’ and broccoli) and ‘T.Hanks’ (barbecue ‘chicken’ and bbq sauce) both with fake meat and vegan cheese as well as lots of delicious sauce. I would definitely come back for a ‘T.Hanks’ in a heartbeat – it made me immediately regret all the complaining I had done earlier, and feel a bit silly about the fact that I given up on the idea of great, quick vegan options that evening. I strongly suggest, whether you are vegan or not, next time you are in Williamsburg (especially if drinking at the Brooklyn Brewery) then try Vinnie’s Pizza.

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans and Greens

(From Post Punk Kitchen. Serves 4-6)

2 teaspoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small head of cauliflower or half a large head of cauliflower

4 cups vegetable stock

A big pinch of salt

Big pinch dried thyme

1 tablespoon of cornstarch

The leaves from a large bunch of basil (the original recipe says about 1 cup loosely packed, but I ended using a bit more)

225g (8oz) frozen gnocchi

1 medium can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 small bunch chard (I used some beautiful rainbow chard)

A large handful of pine nuts

Cut the cauliflower into smallish florets or just chop up roughly. In a large pot, heat two teaspoons of olive oil on medium, and add the garlic. Cook the garlic until browned a little and crispy, but make sure not to burn it. (Normally in such recipes you want the garlic just to soften for soup, but I accidentally browned mine and really enjoyed the flavour it added). Add the chopped up cauliflower and 3 cups of vegetable stock (3 cups only – save the last cup for later), a large pinch of salt, and a large pinch of dried thyme. Cover, bring to a boil, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is soft. (To test you should be able to break a piece of cauliflower in half by pressing it hard with a wooden spoon). The stock may not completely cover the cauliflower, but do not worry – just make sure to stir so that the bits that stick out at the top get some time being submerged.

While the cauliflower is cooking, heat up the fourth cup of vegetable stock (I usually just make stock by adding a stock cube to very hot water and stirring it until it dissolves). Add the tablespoon of cornstarch, and stir well until completely dissolved. When the cauliflower is soft, add the 4th cup of stock, and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until it thickens slightly (about 5 minutes). Take off the heat and add the basil leaves (but before you do, make sure you wash them really well. Basil is one of the worst herbs for coming with lots of grit). Blend in batches or just blend the whole thing with an immersion blender. Normally for soup I suggest keeping some broth to one side while blending so you can make sure you get the consistency you like, but this soup is naturally very thick, so you don’t have to worry about removing any stock.

Place the pine nuts in a non-stick frying pan over medium and dry-toast, shaking regularly, until browned and smelling delicious. Take off the heat and put to one side.

Put the blended soup back on the stove and reheat (I found it did not hold the heat that well, so don’t just assume it is still hot). Add the frozen gnocchi and the beans. Wash the chard, cut off the stalks, and cut or rip the leaves into small-medium shreds. Add the chard to the soup and cook until wilted. I liked still having a bit of a crunch to my chard, so this only took about 7 or so minutes.

Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, and serve.

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