Tag Archives: Quick Soup

Love is…a crate of tomatoes.

 

It isn’t the little things.  It is the really big things that I miss.  I know I am spoilt, but I like tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.  Tomatoes that have grown outside, in the sunshine.  That have ripened gently in the warmth of the midday heat whilst still attached to the vine.  These days I suppose I am considered difficult, a snob or possibly eccentric at best.  The orange, perfectly round versions that bounce (three times I’ll have you know), that I can acquire readily in our local supermarket, just don’t cut it.  It is humbling when you realise that your enjoyment of life is seriously diminished by the lack of a good tomato.  I am not entirely sure what this says about me, but I have reconciled myself with the truth of the matter.  Tomatoes, for me, are a really big thing.

I was teaching last week and manipulated a menu to demand tomatoes.  Good tomatoes. A whole crate of them.   My quest for good ingredients (and my belief that it is only good ingredients that can make a good end result) seems to become heightened to the point of obsession the older I get.  With tomatoes there is just no hiding.  You cannot make tomato soup with a tomato that doesn’t taste like a tomato. Perhaps I am stating the obvious.  I have a secret hope that I am preaching to the converted.

As it happens, it turns out that I am not the only one who is obsessed.  The handful of boxes of baby San Marzanos that are flown into Singapore every week from Southern Italy over the European summer are fought over by Chefs with fat cheques and big names.  I have neither.  I have better.

 I have a three (and 3/4) year old blue eyed boy that loves to come with me to the wholesale dock and bat his blond eyelashes at all the workers.  He sits on an enormous box of fresh water chestnuts, and is fed peeled rambutan by charmed and bemused “Vegetable Uncles”,  while  his mother braves the giant refrigerated warehouses and the surly attitude of the harangued manager.  I re-emerge ten minutes later in a cloud of chilly air as I meet 33C heat and the cheers of my son.  ‘Yay Mama… you got the Zanermatoes!” 

 More than a little precocious he may be, but I don’t care.  Round here he is a golden haired demi-god, and today my demi-god got me the last box of San Marzanos, while culinary heavy weights begged over the phone with only cash as collateral.  As we scoffed vine after vine, I started to wonder if the soup would taste any good if they got infused with all the smugness in the car on the way home.

 

Iced Tomato Soup with Basil Oil

Serves 8 as a starter.  Best made the day before you need it.

Ingredients

20 medium tomatoes, the best, reddest, most flavoursome you can find – approx 1 and a half kilos

The following subsequent ingredients are sometimes entirely unnecessary, but have them to hand anyway in case your tomatoes aren’t quite as ‘tomatoey’ as you would like: 

2 large red bell peppers (capsicums)

2 TBSP red wine vinegar

1 ½ TBSP sea salt flakes

½ tsp chopped, minced garlic

1 TBSP caster sugar

Plenty of fresh ground black pepper

Basil Oil

1 cup best olive oil

Handful of basil leaves (removed from stalk)

Pinch of sea salt

A loaf of really good sourdough, a baguette or ciabatta are all good to serve with the soup

Method

Get out the biggest bowl and pot you own.  Fill both with water, put the pot on the stove and add as much ice as you can into the bowl of water.   If you have lovely vine ripened tomatoes; wash the vines and keep for later. 

Skin the tomatoes by piercing, plunging into boiling water and removing after ten seconds or less, when skin just begins to peel away.  Plunge immediately into ice bath.   Do this in small batches of tomatoes and wait for the water to come to the boil again before introducing the next batch.  A small metal sieve is a good scooping implement for this job or even a Chinese style ‘spider’ spoon, but old fashioned slotted will do. Remember, you do not want the tomato to cook at all or the flavour will resemble tomato sauce.   Peel the tomatoes in the iced water, cut out area where the stalk meets the tomato if it looks tough, chop and put into food processor. I use an immersion blender and an enormous jug to hold the tomatoes for this job, but a magimix or similar is just as good.

Taste, and decide what of the subsequent ingredients (if any) you need to add.  I made our soup with half of the box of baby San Marzanos above.  It did not need a single other ingredient…including salt!

 If using; hold bell peppers with metal tongs over gas flame until they blacken and blister.  Peel, deseed, chop and put into food processor with tomatoes. 

Add vinegar, seasonings and pulse again.  The seasonings are only a guide.  Slowly add more vinegar, sugar and salt to taste, but remember that flavours are intensified after chilling and you can always season again just before serving.

Chill in fridge for at least good couple of hours before serving if you haven’t managed to make it the day before.  Place the reserved, washed, vines into the soup before chilling.  Most of the essence of ‘tomato-iness’ (I know…terrible… but couldn’t come up with any better word), in fact comes from the leaves and stalks of the tomato, and placing the vines into the soup helps to impart some of this wonderful aroma and intensifies the flavours.  This isn’t a silly suggestion – I promise it really works. 

Make the basil oil by blending the basil leaves and oil with a tiny pinch of salt (again, best done with an immersion blender). 

If it is really hot outside you can serve the soup with ice cubes floating about.  Spoon a drizzle of basil oil over the surface and serve with some thin slices of garlic rubbed toasted sourdough, a chunk of hot baguette or some fat slices of warm Ciabatta bread.

 

Panzanella

This one’s for N.

Panzanella is one of those dishes that feels like summer in a bowl to me.  I can’t remember the first time I ate it, but I know that it has always been a favourite in our house.  The River Café had it on their menu years ago and I do remember thinking that this was most definitely the way it was supposed to be eaten.  I am pretty sure theirs was made with a Pagnotta style bread, quite hard to get hold of unless you are in Italy or France and near a very good bakery, or close to La Fromagerie in London (here you can buy it by the quarter – useful as they are enormous).

True Panzanella is a rustic country dish born out of a glut of summer tomatoes and yesterdays’ left over bread.  They don’t have to be fancy baby San Marzanos, in fact I think there isn’t a tomato in the world better than an English one at the height of summer.  If slightly over-ripe and warm from the sun, picked straight from the garden; all the better. 

People argue over whether anchovies or nicoise (or taggiasche) olives ought to be introduced; whether expensive toasted bread or yesterdays’ more authentic old loaf is better; and whether it should be Baby Cherry, over-ripe English, Heirloom or Roma/Plums that should be used. And anchovies.  Oh the debates over anchovies!  

As far as I am concerned the ‘right’ ingredients to use are the ones that you have, or at least the ones that you like the best.  On this particular day, I used large and very fresh Marjoram, and a couple of tiny soft thyme leaves, as well as a few leaves of basil.  Undoubtedly not truly correct, but utterly delicious just the same.  As long as you stick roughly to the volumes of ingredients below there are no serious rules – other than make sure you use very good red wine vinegar and the best olive oil you can lay your hands on.  The picture above in fact looks as though there is as much (or more) bread than tomatoes, but actually it is about 2/3 tomatoes and 1/3 bread.  Again though; the preference is personal and the volumes are flexible.

Ingredients

5 fat slices of Ciabatta, about 200g, or other rustic style day old (or older) crusty bread.  You can put it in the oven for a few minutes once broken up for full effect!

500g peeled baby San Marzano tomatoes (for directions see Iced tomato Soup recipe)

1 TBSP red wine vinegar

3 TBSP best olive oil

½ tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves crushed garlic

A good handful of basil, torn.  Other herbs such as marjoram or oregano and thyme can be added too

Method

If you can’t get your hands on baby tomatoes don’t worry – just buy the best, reddest and juiciest you can find.  I always peel mine, but again this may not strictly be authentic.  Not peeling is lazy and will not give you the best end result, but there are those that argue with conviction that tradition should rule. Cut the tomatoes in half if small or into rustic chunks if large.

Make a dressing with the oil, vinegar, S&P and garlic and pour over the tomatoes in a bowl.  Give them a good stir and leave them at room temperature for about fifteen minutes.  All the juices will start to flow from the tomatoes and begin to make a wonderful soupy mess at the bottom of the bowl.  Give them another good stir and then slowly start to stir in the chunks of bread.  I like to do this when the chunks are a little warm from a slight toasting in the oven.  Make sure all the bread is well covered in the juices and don’t worry if it looks a little dry. Give it a stir every now and then and you will be surprised how much the bread starts to soften and become a wonderfully sodden mess of tomato and aromatics.  Throw on the herbs and serve.

By the way, if you have a truly beautiful bread and can’t bear to tear it up, you can always cut fat slices, rub garlic and olive oil over them, and toast in the oven (or better still on a griddle) until golden.  Then, spoon over a load of tomatoes and herbs for a really tasty bruschetta.  A lovely lunch if served with a few greens and a cold beer.

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White Onion and Truffle Soup

 

Enjoying the fact that my flecked eighties counter top is similar in colour to truffle paste, it has gained renewed respect now that I see the company it keeps

Sometimes it just has to be something decadent.  Something wicked.  Something rare or unusual.  Something out of the ordinary.  Something you would never have every day.

Truffles, for me at least, fit this bill.  Their extraordinary simultaneous earthy and heady tones conjure something within me difficult to put into words.  The fact that they are only available at certain times of the year makes them all the wondrous when at last they arrive.  Shaved generously on an olive oil doused Burratta, scattered upon a creamy risotto, thrown with abandon atop a crushed butterbean bruschetta, a Parmesan Custard, an utterly unnecessary addition to Gratin Dauphinoise…to hell with it…Macaroni Cheese!

I go through phases of being utterly beholden to the imaginings of combinations of ingredients both new and classic that could be bettered by the addition of this gnarled nugget of heaven.  The truth is that nothing can better a hot sourdough crusty baguette with cold hard English salty butter.  But just occasionally, should that butter be pounded with the remnants of a finely chopped black Perigord Truffle, it can transport the humble flute l’Ancienne to a meal fit for a King…or me.

Paper thin shavings of fresh truffles would have easily sated my most recent cravings, but the fresh variety is unavailable thanks to my current location (Singapore) and the fact that it is out of season anywhere in the world that I would chose to/have the ability to eat it.  Though not for long.  My cravings (and absurd kindness of my husband) have spurned me to book tickets to Australia for the end of the month to go out on a truffle hunting adventure with a fellow hopeless female foodie romantic.  My pilgrimage will take me to one of the best restaurants in the world, at a time when these ugly walnut sized chunks of edible black gold (Even Brillat-Savarin¹ referred to them as diamonds from the dirt) appear near that side of the earth’s surface, harvested by equally ugly yet rather alarmingly charming hogs. It will arrive at my table in the guise of 11 different dishes and served with fanfare appropriate to a menu degustation devoted to the stuff.  Heaven!

Though Australia has in fact only been cultivating and/or harvesting these beauties commercially for about twelve years, their quality is undeniable, and though not as pungent as the winter Perigord or delicate as the Italian Summer Truffle, for black truffles they ain’t bad…and they are just about within my reach!

For today, however, my yearnings have had to be sated by a paste.  I am not a food snob.  When you are desperate you just have to bend the rules.  Whilst ‘make do and mend’ seems an inappropriate phrase to call to mind when referring to the use of one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, I was hardly stooping to the use of anything inferior.  In fact, in many ways, the truffle paste sent to me by my dear friend Sarah from London is a singularly superior and highly coveted item in my larder.  When not slathering the stuff on crusty bread under cover of darkness for fear of being told that it is a waste, I try to dream up appropriate accompaniments…suitable for sharing.

This is one of my all-time favourites.

WHITE ONION AND TRUFFLE SOUP

Serves 1 very happily, 2 nicely, 3 if necessary, 4 as a starter.

Like all of my favourite recipes, its beauty lies in its simplicity.  There are only six ingredients.  Three of them are salt, pepper and water, the first two of which are often unnecessary.

4 large brown skinned, white onions

1 pint of water, use decent still spring water if you can (I promise not snobbery…Patricia Michelson taught me the merits…just try it)

1 pint of whole milk

A pinch of salt and pepper if needed

Truffle Paste (watch out for pastes beefed out with mushrooms), or shavings of fresh truffle if you can lay your hands on it!

Method

Peel and roughly chop the onions.  Place in a heavy pan and cover with the milk and water.  Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes, watching all the time to ensure it doesn’t catch or boil over.  When the onion is translucent and utterly soft, and the milk is frothy and bubbling, turn off the heat and blitz with a bamix or immersion blender to create a velvety soup resembling heavy pouring cream.  Add salt and pepper only if needed.  Spoon into a bowl and smear a generous helping of truffle paste across the surface (let the paste down with a little milk if too solid).  Eat immediately with warm crusty bread and, of course, a lump of cold, hard, salty butter.  Also pretty damned good chilled if you strangely end up with leftovers.

Footnote

¹A genuine food hero in my book; Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826, Paris.  A French lawyer and politician, he was better known as an epicure and gastronome and wrote extensively on food; the art of eating and hosting, and is roundly billed as the father of the gastronomic essay.  He also expounded the virtues of proteins and the deficits of sugars and carbohydrates, predating Atkins by a couple of centuries.  His most famous quotes include “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are”.  His famous work Physiologie du goût (the physiology of taste) has never been out of print since the day it was first published in 1825, two months before his death.  He is also the only foodie I know of to have a divine cheese, a shape of mould and a style of dessert named after him!

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