Tomato soup – the best comfort food ever?

I’ve been soooo busy. Not quite sure what I’ve been doing (apart from my tax return), but I’ve been rushed off my feet. And last weekend I suddenly had to give lunch to seven hungry spinners. Spinners of wool, ahem, not spinners on bikes – but they get just as hungry. Soup had to be one answer; it so often is at this time of year… and raiding the freezer had to be another.

Now, I admit it, I’ve a weakness for at least one tinned soup – tomato. Who hasn’t? Well, apart from people who either don’t like tomatoes, can’t eat tomatoes or who, as in my case, are lactose intolerant – my favourite, Heinz, has milk in it (‘dried skimmed milk, milk proteins’ to be exact), as many do. And most of the prepared tomato soups also are high in an ingredient which I don’t use in mine, and which is finally getting the negative press it deserves: sugar. Half a tin – half a tin – typically contains nearly 10g of sugar, 2 teaspoons. Yikes.

tomato and red pepper soupSo I recently set to work to produce as credible an imitation as I could, given certain variables, and I think I finally got there. As a result I had lots of single-portion containers stashed in the freezer, and boy did they come in handy. They weren’t all identical, as I’d been experimenting with different ways of thickening the soup, but they were close enough to work together well – and I just had enough for my starving spinners.

So here’s the recipe, and with the two most successful alternative ways of thickening the soup given: using a potato or some cannellini beans. For the latter, you can (of course) use dried beans instead of the tinned ones given in the ingredients; soak 120g overnight, then rinse and cook them until they are just soft before adding to the soup.

Tomato and red pepper soup
serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 red peppers, de-seeded and chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g tin of cannellini beans, OR
1 potato, about 150g
half a tsp sweet smoked paprika (pimenton dulce)
a few thyme leaves
salt and black pepper

Warm the oil in a large casserole or pan over a medium heat and add the chopped onion. Stir it in, then put the lid on and sweat the onion for about 5 minutes; check that it isn’t catching. Then add the celery, the peppers and garlic and cook, lid off, for a further couple of minutes.

Add the tomatoes (if using whole tinned toms instead of chopped ones because that’s what you’ve got in stock, break them up in the tin first). Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, if using, or peel and chop the potato, and then add to the pan. Finally add the paprika and the thyme leaves, then stir everything together. Fill the empty tomato tins with water, swirl round to collect all the tomato juices, and add them to the pan too.

Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the peppers are soft; add a little more liquid (boiling water or hot vegetable stock) if the soup looks as though it’s going to be too thick, but try and wait until after blending because this soup is best quite thick, and it’s difficult to judge when it’s still in chunks. Blend the soup until it’s smooth, and then add more liquid to get the consistency you prefer. Reheat the soup, check for seasoning – and serve with some chunky wholemeal bread.

(On the sweet smoked paprika – it’s getting easier to find, but the most frequently stocked smoked paprika is the hotter one. The really useful sweeter version can be bought economically online if necessary, and a tin will last for ages.)


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