I always used to turn my nose up at menus that included vanilla on savoury dishes. After all, it’s the stuff of nursery puddings, right? Ambrosial rice pudding, voluptuous crème brûlée and smooth, cold ice-cream: that’s what vanilla is for.
And then I tried some vanilla mashed potato served with a simply grilled fillet of white fish, with a delicate cream sauce by Richard Brook at the Manor House Hotel in the Cotswolds and something just clicked. In the right context vanilla as a savoury spice really does work. It’s fruity and aromatic, and actually rather wasted when restricted to just sweets.
And so when I was enlisted to test bacons this week as part of my Best of Three series for Lovefood.com I couldn’t resist trying the vanilla-cured bacon by Heston at Waitrose. While you’ll have to wait for the full results of the taste test, the bacon did inspire me to pair the two ingredients together in cooking. Here are the results. It really is delicious, even if I do say so myself. Let me know what you think.
Celeriac, vanilla and bacon soup
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small white onions
4 rashers of bacon (I used Heston’s vanilla bacon)
1 whole celeriac
2 tsps honey
2 bay leaves
1/2 a vanilla pod
Garam masala (to garnish)
- Slice the onions and sweat in the oil until softened and translucent in colour. Snip in the bacon, using scissors, and fry until the bacon starts to caramelise.
- Peel and chop the celeriac (use a knife rather than a potato peeler, otherwise you’ll be there all day) and add to the pan, giving a good mix as you go.
- Add the honey, and stir, before adding the milk and topping up with water until the celeriac is just covered. Add the bay leaves. Slice a vanilla pod in half (lengthways, reserving one half for your sugar jar or another recipe) and add that, too. Stir thoroughly, add a lid and leave to simmer on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes until the celeriac is tender.
- Remove the vanilla pod (wash it and dry it and you can add it to your sugar jar as well) and bay leaves and allow to cool slightly. Blitz until smooth using a hand blender and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Sprinkle over your favourite garam masala mix to serve (I used a rather fruity blend I bought in Zurich last year at the Hiltl vegetarian cookery school). Enjoy!