The holidays are over. No more lounging around in pyjamas all day. No more watching the television late into the night (for 'late' read 'after 11') - just because we can. No more desserts on a whim. And plenty of early starts for sure.
It's back to school, work, swimming and general busy life now. It's the life that we choose, but boy, we definitely appreciate the holidays.
Sunday was the first day back for us and in a New Year Spring Cleaning Frenzy, I decided to do a fridge, freezer and pantry clear out. I'm rock n roll, I am. It was more of an audit really, I suppose - but that 'audit' word does sound duller than a dull thing. Deep in my subconscious (or maybe just below the surface), I had probably nudged myself into doing this after the discovery that the packet of semolina that I had pulled out of the pantry, a couple of days earlier, to stop the pizza from sticking to the bottom of the oven had an expiry date of September 2007! That's only just after we moved to Dubai, for goodness sake and we've even moved house since then .... Operation 'Clear Out' was GO.
Apart from the semolina, the pantry was in pretty good shape - no more sinister secrets there. And the fridge? Finally, the leftovers from Christmas and New Year were finished so I could see a bit of shelf space, so that was a good start.
And the freezer? This was more of a tidying up job - grouping similar things together so there's more chance of them surfacing again. But I did also have two significant freezer observations -
Observation 1 - I need to think of something other than meringues that I can make with my 31 frozen egg whites. There are so many little pots of them freezing away nicely in there but there's only so many meringues I want to eat. Even in a lifetime. My lovely husband suggested 'egg white omelettes'. Sensible - but really, would that make anybody's soul sing? I'd probably rather throw them away. Or eat my own toenails.
Observation 2 - Making chicken stock is really fantastic ... commendable even ... wholesome definitely - but at some stage it needs using rather than just filling up more and more of the freezer. Currently, there are 11 litres in there. That would make a heck of a lot of anything.
So ... my audit completed, inventory in hand, a more organised pantry and freezer and a fridge with some breathing space inside it, I began to think about food for that evening.
To start with, I wanted to chip away at the enormous chicken stock glacier but I also needed to consider that we were no longer in the lingering, relaxed holiday meals zone of the festive season.
Risotto? NO - strictly for weekends and holidays ... too much fuss for a school night and no good for 2 or 3 sittings for dinner.
Soup? NO - a bit too 'lunchy' for strapping boys.
But what about a big, hearty soup packed with Tortellini pasta parcels and perfect for an evening when everyone is not getting home at the same time? BINGO.
This Big, Hearty Pasta Soup is the perfect easy, flexible meal for families with a range of appetites and who want to eat at different times, but also delicious and no-fuss for a family meal all dining together.
Here is how to make this Big Hearty Pasta Soup -
- Make a simple vegetable soup. I used chicken stock (of course) but you could equally use vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian. I made the soup part earlier in the day to avoid too much last-minute effort. There's nothing at all fancy about the soup base but a good stock and some generous seasoning will make a difference. I also used tinned, chopped tomatoes with added herbs for a touch of extra flavour.
- When you are ready to serve, either heat up the whole quantity of soup or alternatively just enough for whoever is ready to eat. When it's boiling, drop in enough pieces of tortellini to suit your diners' appetites and cook for 1-2 minutes (or according to the packet instructions). The tortellini will remain floating on the top of the soup so there is no danger of losing it beneath the vegetables.
- Serve some soup and the tortellini with a drizzle of pesto (loosened with some olive oil or reserved pasta water if you have some in the fridge), a sprinkling of basil and a generous shaving of Parmesan. Think of this as layering up the flavour just as much as making it look pretty. Your soup may end up being big and hearty but a bit ordinary if you pass on this stage.
I dug a nutty, wholemeal loaf out of the freezer (not forgetting to strike it from the inventory of course (!) - NOTE TO SELF - I must be a wow at parties) to keep the returning hungry swimmers happy and there we had it - 2 bags of chicken stock used, a yummy dinner prepared but still no idea what to do with the 31 egg whites ... Any suggestions?