Tag Archives: tomatoes

Unseasonably cold? That means soup!

As a gardener, I do keep a sort of record – and so I know that it’s often chilly and stormy at this time of year, here on the west coast of Wales. I’ve often ended up having to replant things which I was rash enough to put in the veg beds, and I generally have the last fire in the woodburner about now. This year, however, I seem to have forgotten all that and have been taken by surprise. My immediate reaction, though, wasn’t to go out and chop logs. It was to make soup.

I don’t tend to have soups in summer; it seems wrong, on some sort of fundamental level. Don’t get me wrong; I like cold soups but it seldom occurs to me to make one. Whereas it’s almost the first thing I consider for lunch on a cold, rainy, windy day – in May. Grumble.

So I hit the recipe books and notes in search of inspiration, given that I’d also just come back from Aldi with a supply of veggie bargains. No more shopping; time to adapt and improvise and come up with something which would work. Because it is, ostensibly, spring I went to various Italian recipes – Italian food somehow seems less depressingly wintry than what’s happening outside – and ended up with a variation on an old favourite…

One word: I usually have home-made tomato and herb passata in the freezer; it’s a godsend if you grow too many tomatoes, as I always do (they’re as bad as the beans). By now I’m gearing up for the new growing year, and am keen to use what’s in stock; I’ve got another three boxes of this to go. But a bottle will do just as well, though adding a little basil would be good.

Emergency Minestra di Ceci
serves 4

Soup yum1 small red onion
1 banana shallot
5g butter
1 tsp olive oil
3 sticks of celery
2 small carrots
1 red pepper
350ml tomato passata
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme

Peel and finely chop the red onion and the shallot. Put the butter and oil in a heavy pan or casserole and heat them gently, then add the chopped onion and shallot. Sweat them over a low heat for 5 minutes or so, making sure that they don’t catch. Chop the celery and carrots finely while the onions are cooking, and then add them to the pan too. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, until the onion and shallot are transparent and softening. De-seed and chop the red pepper, also finely, and then add it to the pan as well. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, still making sure that nothing is burning by stirring regularly (and keeping an eye on the pan, of course).

Add the tomato passata and increase the temperature; add some water to bring the level of the liquid up to cover the veg. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the bay leaf in the soup and pull the leaves off the thyme and scatter them in as well. Bring the soup almost up to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer it for about 10 minutes, or until the carrot and pepper are beginning to get nice and soft. Tip in the chickpeas and cook for a further 5 minutes or so – longer if you want the chickpeas to disintegrate slightly; you may need also to add a little more water to get the soup to the consistency you prefer, but it should be thick. (If intending to freeze portions, bear in mind that they will be cooked more when reheated and don’t overcook the chickpeas at this stage.) Add seasoning to taste and serve as soon as the vegetables are done to your satisfaction, accompanied by chunks of bread.

not a good ideaNow I have the freezer bulging again. Nothing better than soup for freezing. And nothing better for freezing gardeners than a bowl of hot soup.

But there’s a lot that’s better for cameras than trying to photograph soup while it’s actually cooking… happily the new camera seems to have recovered. Not sure about me, but there you go.

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.)