Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Soups a Bit Thin...

Fact- I really love soup. No matter the weather, even when it’s boiling hot I can still manage to wolf down a steaming bowl of soup. In all my years on this earth I am yet to find a soup I didn’t like. Although the variety of fresh soups available now is immense there are countless benefits of making soup at home. For starters it’s simple, great value and incredibly versatile. Whatever you can find on offer in your local supermarket, even if it’s slightly past it’s best, can usually be turned into a pretty decent soup. It’s a perfect way to get down a few of your 5-a-day too. The possibilities are literally endless. Carrot & coriander, chicken noodle, French onion, broccoli & Stilton, consommé…I could go on for hours! 

Often on a Monday I clear out the fridge of the last remaining vegetables and make a batch of soup that will feed me for the whole week. If you keep stock cubes on hand and have a root through your store cupboard, you're bound to find loads of  herbs & spices or ingredients that will give your soup a boost. Such as pesto and dried oregano for an Italian twist, fish sauce, chilli & lime if you fancy a bit of Thai or honey, harissa paste & cinnamon for a Moroccan flavour. I will happily eat the same soup for a week, each day I add something different to vary it a little. Extra fresh herbs & chilli, sliced chicken or prawns leftover from the previous evening, grated cheese & croutons. Any I don’t eat just goes in the freezer in labelled pots ready for defrosting when I want it. Have it at home, take it to work or share it with a friend a batch of homemade soup will never get thrown away I guarantee it. Just remember to taste and season well when making it, bland soup isn't going to win you any friends! 

Whenever eating out in a restaurant with my Dad, if someone is to order a dish that requires a finger bowl he will always remark on receiving it "Oh look, the soups a bit thin." It's something I used to cringe at but I now even when he isn't there I find myself saying it too. A reassuring memory much like soup has become for me. Before I started to cook my soup fix would usually be from a tin. I was a bit of a fussy eater as a teenager. A stint at an incredibly strict primary school with terrible meals and zero tolerance to leaving any of your lunch had left me rather dubious of food in general. I think the amount of lumpy smash and mystery meat i'd choked down had given me the fear of cooked meals. My poor Mother would have to put up with me turning my nose up at a delicious home cooked meal and instead opting for something 'safe' from a packet, jar or tin.  I absolutely loved Heinz tomato soup; I used to eat it with grated cheddar cheese, lots of black pepper and triangles of sliced white bread to dip in. Always triangles, never squares, it tastes different- I promise. I'm happy to say that I grew out of that fussy stage, I now love my Mothers cooking, but I never grew out of Heinz or soup in general. 

For me Heinz tomato soup was as much an integral part of my childhood as Baywatch on Saturdays and Home & away followed by Neighbours after the school day was done. As familiar as playing Mario Kart for hours on end and choosing ridiculous email names on Hotmail. The ones that shame you for years to come. As satisfying as reading Point Horror books by the shelf load and managing to stop the tape right at the point when the song ended when recording the Top 40 on a Sunday.

Its consistency and familiar orange hue saw me through many a bout of illness or teenage heartbreak when chewing real food felt like too much effort. Even now that I am all grown up and can cook the most complicated of dishes it is what I crave whenever I’m knocked of course or feeling a little under the weather. So here’s my recipe for tomato soup, I wont lie it’s no Heinz but then why would you want to replace it when it’s just so good as it is (and counts as one of your 5-a-day)? Everyone should have a recipe for really good tomato soup, I think this is it, and hopefully you will too.

Proper Tomato Soup
Makes about 10 portions, easily halved if you have a smaller pan
Can be frozen

Make this when tomatoes are in season or if you have a local farm shop you can normally pick up a huge bag for about a quid. If not use tinned instead. But don’t bother roasting them first.

About 2.75kg ripe tomatoes, halved
2-3 fat cloves garlic
fresh thyme sprigs, leaves pulled off
1 red chilli, sliced
fresh oregano, lots.
Fresh basil lots.
2 chicken stock pots. Or use veggie if you’re that way inclined, chicken is better though, everyone knows that.
About 2 tbsp cider, red, or white wine vinegar
1 heaped tbsp. brown sugar
50g tomato puree
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
really good shake of Worcestershire sauce
100ml milk
50g light soft cheese
50g grated Parmesan cheese
salt, black pepper
olive oil

1 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Lay your halved tomatoes on 2-3 big lined baking trays. Slice half the garlic. Scatter on, with the thyme, chilli & some of the oregano. Season well with salt & pepper. Drizzle on half the vinegar. Roast for 1 hour.

2 Meanwhile heat a little oil and a good pinch of salt in a very large pan. Sweat onion, carrot and celery until really soft. Add the rest of the garlic, crushed, the rest of the vinegar, oregano, sugar, puree, Worcestershire sauce, and some black pepper. Stir and cook until caramelised.

3 Add the roasted tomatoes and juices from the pan. Add the stock pots with enough water to just cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Blitz with the basil, milk, soft cheese & Parmesan. Add extra water if too thick. Taste, season, fall in love. Have with a cheese toastie for proper comfort food bliss.

I usually eat this for a whole week at one go, so to stop it getting boring I chuck in something different to each portion I heat up (see pics). Try chicken, roasted veg, cherry tomatoes, prawns, fish, mozzarella, basil, chillies, rocket, pasta (but not all at once).

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