Saturday 27 February 2016

Roasted tomato soup

This is my Sunday supplement shot
I've always thought most soup recipes were pretty dumb. I mean the concept, rather than the actual recipe. With soup, the name is the recipe right? Guess what's in pea and ham soup... or watercress... or, simplest of all... tomato? As long as you have a blender, you add the main ingredient to some kind of stock and flick the switch. Soup!

So, predictably, this is a very simple, one oven, one pot dish. You don't even use a liquid, just the main ingredient.

Cooking is mostly about applying heat to food, in order to soften the muscle or fibre, to make it easier to eat. Of course, this often makes it tastier too: charring and caramelising natural sugars. But modern cooking, increasingly, is about removing water from food. Take away the wet stuff to leave more of the flavour particles. Yes, that is the technical term. With British tomatoes this step is essential. Cooking with toms is one of the times I regret living on this slate grey, rain slanted island. We don't get Spanish sun or the Italian heat and our veg hates us for it. It sulks on the vine, refusing to bloom. It's like a truculent Goth, sat in its bedroom, curtains closed to a soundtrack of Nine Inch Nails; refusing to wear the bright clothing; the summer wardrobe. UK tomatoes suck. We've all had the radiant red stuff yeah? For me, usually in a  nothing-special cafe in Italy. The fruit so ripe and sun vibrant that the juice is pink, let alone the flesh. Supermarkets make things worse by picking the toms too early, when still green - easier for transport.

So, sat in England in February the only way to make our native toms sing is to remove the water: to roast them. Bung in some additional flavour too, maybe three or four garlic cloves and/or a sprinkle of thyme leaves. But not too much; this is all about the tomato. Simple, sweet, astringent.

So take a bunch of vine tomatoes, about half a kilo of plum or vittoria. Buy the darkest, reddest fruit you can find. and place them vine down in a shallow roasting tray. Why vine down? Because there's flavour in them there stems and I want to infuse the oil while it bakes. Glug over at least 200ml of olive oil; a good slick. Now sprinkle over a couple of diced shallots and give the whole tray a good shower of black pepper and sea salt. Finally, about 30g of sugar.

Bake in the oven for two hours at 150°C. You want to soften not colour. Now pluck the toms off the vine, they will come away very easily. Put toms, the oily, roasting juices and the soft shallot into a blender. Don't put the garlic in, unless you want garlic soup. Blend until smooth. You may still need to sieve out pips and bits of skin. I don't as I am blessed with a Vitamix, the destroyer of worlds.

Add a dash of double cream, to taste. Too much and it will taste like Heinz (and then, why did we bother?), not enough and it will be tart. Season with salt and possibly more sugar. This will make enough for four people, perhaps.

I serve with a tablespoon of cream and some drops of basil oil. If you're feeling adventurous, try frying some basil leaves, for about ten seconds. I often use this as an amuse bouche as the acidity starts up your mouth for the meal to come.

These only look orange because of the lighting in the Dining Club.

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