Celeriac soup with Shropshire Blue and a hint of chilli

Celeriac isn’t the prettiest of vegetables but you should never judge a book by its cover as they say. Despite it looking like a close-up of an insect under a microscope (as someone described it recently over on my Facebook page), I tend to get very excited when I discover one in our weekly veg box.

It’s wonderful simply boiled and mashed with a little butter, in a gratin with potatoes and lots of cream and garlic, or grated raw in an Ottolenghi-style root vegetable salad. I reckon it’s one of the most versatile vegetables around.

But my personal favourite is to partner celeriac with some kind of blue cheese in a soup. The mellow earthy, nutty flavour works so well with the tang of a good blue cheese. Stilton is always popular but I prefer a Shropshire Blue, which isn’t quite so in-your-face and gives the soup a wonderful orangey colour.

For a little extra kick, I do rather like to add a little chilli too, although I generally leave this out when I’m making it for the children. But as I cooked this last week for just me and my husband, the chilli was most definitely in, helping to boost the central heating on a wet, chilly day.

Celeriac soup with Shropshire Blue and a hint of chilli

2 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
1 onion, peeled, and chopped
500g celeriac, peeled and diced
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 litre hot vegetable stock
120g Blue Shropshire cheese

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and gently sweat the onion until soft.

Add the celeriac and cook a little, making sure the pieces get a good coating of butter and oil.

Throw in the chopped chilli and fry for a couple more minutes before adding the hot stock. Allow to simmer for around 15 minutes until the celeriac is tender. Cool a little before liquidising to a smooth consistency.

Return the soup to the heat while you crumble in the Blue Shropshire cheese and warm through gently until the cheese has melted. Serve with big hunks of crusty bread. Heaven in a bowl…

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

I think celery is a wonderful ingredient for soup. It can seem on the surface a bit of a nothingy vegetable; great for adding a bit of crunch to a salad but not particularly interesting in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong. I love celery in a salad but it is usually a bit part player.

But when cooked, it is transformed. The flavour deepens and intensifies. And combined as in this soup with the saltiness of smoked pancetta and a strong blue cheese, such as a Stilton or Blue Vinney, I really don’t think you can achieve much more pleasure in a bowl of food than this.

I make my celery soup with chicken stock plus a sprinkling of crispy pancetta to serve, but for a vegetarian version simply leave out the pancetta and use vegetables stock instead.

This is a perfect soup for a light but indulgent lunch and is also interesting enough for a starter when you have friends over for dinner. Its taste belies how simple it is to make. My children will eat it quite happily, but only if I omit to tell them there is any blue cheese in it.

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

Serves 4

Large knob of butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
5 large sticks of celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
800ml chicken stock, hot
75g blue cheese
50g pancetta, diced

In a large pan melt the butter and gently fry the onions until golden. Add the celery and potatoes and toss in the butter for a couple of minutes.

Pour in the hot stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the celery and potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile fry the pancetta in a little more butter until crispy. Place on some kitchen towel so they are not too greasy.

Liquidise until smooth and then return to a gentle heat. Crumble in the blue cheese and stir until it has melted in. Check for seasoning at this point, but I’d be surprised if you need any.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of crispy pancetta. Soup doesn’t get sexier than this!