We might crave different dishes, but what we all have in common at noon is that we’re looking for a meal that is nourishing, comforting and healthy, a meal that gives us energy for the rest of the day and that is good for body, mind and soul. Instead of regularly searching for this outside our kitchens and eating out, we can keep it in our own hands and increase the likelihood that we’ll find what we’re actually looking for. Cooking and preparing lunch at home, even in advance, doesn’t need to be an impossible challenge. It can be exciting yet simple, and equally fitting to the start, the middle or the end of our day.
Kale and sweet potato soup with pasta and poached eggs
This soup is ideal for grey and gloomy days – it’s the essence of relaxed, cold-weather cooking. Made with colourful vegetables, tiny pasta and poached eggs, it’s comforting and will brighten your spirits. The liquid egg yolk melts into the clear broth, making the soup almost creamy, while the pasta soaks up all the flavours, making it a little richer and more substantial. I use fregula sarda, a toasted, pearl-shaped pasta from Sardinia, which is tender and silky, but orzo or pearl couscous work well, too. Kale and sweet potato are a beautiful duo for a winter soup, but feel free to use white potatoes, parsnip, squash or canned beans. You can poach the eggs in the soup, but I prefer to cook them separately. The vegetables need to cook for about 20 minutes, so check the cooking time of your pasta and add it to the soup early enough that the pasta and vegetables are ready at the same time.
Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
Olive oil, for sauteeing and finishing
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved
110g trimmed kale or cavolo nero leaves, cut into short strips
250g sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
600ml hot vegetable stock
6 thyme sprigs
2 small rosemary sprigs
2 small bay leaves
Fine sea salt and finely ground black pepper
110g pearl-shaped pasta, such as fregula sarda, orzo or pearl couscous
2-3 large eggs
Put a splash of oil in a medium saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute, stirring, for a few minutes, or until soft.
Stir in the kale and sweet potato, cook for a minute, then add the hot stock, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Season and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme and rosemary, and cook for 10 minutes longer, adding and cooking the pasta according to the package instructions, so the pasta and vegetables are ready at the same time. When the pasta and vegetables are both tender, remove and discard the onion, garlic and bay leaves, season again to taste, cover and keep warm.
Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a low simmer, and crack an egg into a small bowl. Hold a large spoon just over the surface of the water, then gently tip the egg on to the spoon. Lower the spoon into the water, hold it there until the egg white starts to turn white, then, using a tablespoon, gently scoop the egg off the large spoon and into the hot water and leave it to poach for three minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the egg to a plate and repeat with the remaining eggs, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a low simmer. You can poach one egg at a time or cook all of them together, watching the time for each individual egg.
Divide the soup between bowls and place a poached egg in the middle of each portion. Cut open the tops of the eggs with a sharp knife, so the yolks run into the soup, then drizzle with a little olive oil and serve immediately.
Green minestrone with dumplings
This may be just a little bowl of minestrone, but it feels like a hug for the soul. Add some shop-bought dumplings, and you’re ready to face whatever the world puts in front of you. I use maultaschen – large pasta pockets that originate in southern Germany and that are usually filled with minced meat and fresh herbs. I get them from my local butcher, but ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, or tortellini, would be just as good. This takes only 20 minutes to cook and could not be easier: simply choose your favourite dumplings, drop them into boiling stock with some green vegetables, and you can be sitting in front of a soothing bowl of soup in next to no time at all.
Prep 5 min
Cook 20 min
600ml (2½ cups) good vegetable stock
Fine sea salt and finely ground pepper
310g (11 ounces) fresh or frozen mixed green vegetables, such as fava beans, green beans, peas or small zucchini cubes
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced, plus a few leaves to serve
340g (12 ounces) shop-bought filled dumplings, such as ravioli, tortellini or maultaschen
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil and season with a little salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, then add the mixed vegetables and celery, and simmer for 10 minutes, until tender; during this time, add and cook the dumplings according to the packet instructions, so they’re ready at the same time as the vegetables. Season to taste, divide between two bowls, sprinkle on a few celery leaves and serve.
Quick chicken soup with lime and vegetables
My mother taught me to plunge a whole chicken, lots of vegetables and fresh herbs in a large pot when making proper chicken soup: it should be rich and concentrated, with shiny drops of golden fat dancing on its surface. And, of course, it needs to cook for at least an hour. So here we forget about my mother – no offence, Mama – and take a different approach. I would double the quantities and freeze any excess, because this is such a convenient treat when the weather’s nasty and you want to warm yourself from within.
Prep 10 min
Cook 25 min
600ml good chicken stock
1 lime, zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, then juiced, to get 2 tsp
2 small bay leaves
Fine sea salt and finely ground pepper
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
½ courgette, cut into small cubes
85g fresh or frozen peas
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
2 tsp olive oil
1 spring onion, green part only, finely sliced
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock, lime zest and juice and bay leaves to a boil, then season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken, courgette, peas, carrots and celery, cover and bring to a low simmer. Make sure to keep it at a low simmer, so adjust the heat as necessary; the meat will turn tough if the broth boils. Poach the chicken for 12 to 15 minutes, until it’s cooked through, then transfer to a board and, using two forks, pull it into bite-sized pieces.
Season the soup again to taste, then return the chicken to the pot and stir in the olive oil and sliced spring onion. Divide the hot soup between bowls, then serve.
These recipes are edited extracts from Noon: Simple Recipes for Scrumptious Midday Meals and More, by Meike Peters, published by Chronicle Books at £21.99. To order a copy for £19.35, go to the Guardian Bookshop