Due to a glitch in a third-party firewall, access to the online version of Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is currently on hold. The publisher’s IT department has promised a speedy response. We’ll see! In the interim, be comforted by this outstanding tomato soup recipe.
It’s distressing news for any writer to hear that their latest book has suddenly gone AWOL. In the old world of print publishing, we would have loved to hear that the bookstores had run out of copies, due to massive demand. Actually, that never happened to me. My first three print books all sold out but were never reprinted. My fourth, an eBook, did moderately well and is still available on Amazon and a few other online retailers. Here’s the link to Market to Table: The Cookbook if you feel inclined to support a starving author.
Meanwhile, my latest offering is languishing somewhere in the cloud, or a data stream, or a constipated server, or wherever. Let’s hope the computer nerds can find a solution and allow my faithful readers access again. The publisher reports: “…apologies for this trouble. Since this is an issue with our retail partners and not [our company] specifically, we unfortunately do not have a timeline on how quickly this issue will be fixed, but we are hoping that it will be soon. Once this issue is resolved, it typically takes two to four weeks for eBooks to be processed and for them to appear on retail sites.” As soon as the eBook is back online, you’ll be the first to read about it here!
As a consolation, I’d like to offer one of my favourite recipes from the book, a heartwarming soup. In the book, I write:
“If you think of tomato soup as the ultimate comfort food, then this is for you. But our ancestors thought the plant poisonous and just grew it for decoration. All blended soups have a tummy warming, comforting feeling and this one is especially effective. It’s really tasty and when I served it at a dinner party all declared it delicious. The trick is roasting the tomatoes and other veggies to bring out more flavour.
“Some people’s idea of tomato soup is limited to opening a can of the Campbell’s condensed variety, made famous in a much-replicated print by artist Andy Warhol. Be warned that it contains a ton of sugar and salt and is thickened with flour. The listed ingredients are water, tomato paste, corn syrup, wheat flour, salt, citric acid, celery extract and garlic oil. Heinz Cream of Tomato soup boasts that it’s made with 89 per cent tomatoes, but also contains cornflour, sugar, canola, skim milk powder, citric acid, spices and herbs (unspecified). If you want goodness and flavour without the baggage, then follow my lead, and make your own. And to my reluctant cook friends: it’s so easy you’ll wonder why you’ve never made it before.
“Tomatoes are a relatively recent addition to our western diet. The tomato plant is native to the Pacific coast of South America; the name comes from the Aztec tomati. The conquering Spanish introduced tomatoes to Europe, where they became popular in Spanish and Italian cooking. The French and northern Europeans erroneously thought them to be poisonous because they are a member of the deadly nightshade family. This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter plates, commonly used by the wealthy, which leached out poisonous lead. The peasants ate off wooden platters, so accepted tomatoes more readily. The leaves and immature fruit do contain a mild poison. Large quantities would need to be consumed to be toxic, but we are saved by the fact that as tomatoes ripen, the poison disappears. Beware of green tomatoes!
“Tomatoes were not grown in England until the end of the 1500s and were purely ornamental. One early writer had deemed them poisonous and that view stuck in Britain and its North American colonies for many years. But by the mid-18th century the Brits and Americans had taken to tomatoes, especially in soups, although the use in cooking was largely confined to Italian and Jewish immigrant cuisine. Mexican cooking was, of course, influenced by the Spanish, who had been in turn influenced by the indigenous peoples. The idea of eating tomatoes in salads was imported from the Middle East, where they had become popular in the same time frame.
“The best tomatoes to use for soups and sauces are Italian plum or Roma tomatoes, which essentially have a similar oblong shape. They have a lower liquid, higher solid ratio, which improves the consistency of soups and sauces. Ripe tomatoes also have a significant umami flavour. Umami is the fifth and newest identified taste, the others being sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Translated from Japanese, the word means savory. Although umami was first scientifically described in 1908, it was not widely recognized until 1985. The umami flavour in my soup increases as the tomatoes are roasted.
“If your tomatoes are bought out of season, they may not be very ripe, so keep them in a paper bag for a couple of days, an amazing trick I learned from my late and much beloved grandfather. Even better, wait for the summer crop.”
Right now, Roma tomatoes are amazing and I buy a pile of extras at Urban Fresh Produce in the wonderful St. Lawrence Market to make a big batch of soup. Just for the two of us to share today. The rest will keep well in the fridge for other meals.
ROASTED TOMATO SOUP
- 3 lb / 1 1/3 kg fresh ripe plum or Roma tomatoes (about 8-10)
- 4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 sweet red pepper, quartered, seeds removed
- 1 jalapeno pepper, halved, seeds removed
- 2 TBSP EVOO
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 TBSP lime juice
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 2 cups / 1 pint / 500g vegetable broth
- 150ml / 5.5 fl oz can tomato paste (optional)
- chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup / 4 fl oz heavy cream (optional)
- toasted crostini (a small slice of crisp, crunchy bread, lightly toasted)
Preparation and cooking
1. Preheat the oven to 210°C / 410°F. Half the ripe plum tomatoes lengthwise, removing the eye. Half or quarter the red pepper, removing the stalk, pith and all the seeds. Wash the segments to be sure to remove any surface bits and pieces. Half the hot jalapeno pepper (carefully–even the juice can sting!) and remove the stalk, seeds and pith. Peel and quarter the onion and garlic cloves. Place them on a baking tin (TIP: first cover the tin with aluminum foil and spritz it with veggie oil to prevent anything sticking and help with clean up.) Sprinkle with dried oregano, sea salt, a generous grind of black pepper and drizzle sparingly with good quality EVOO.
2. Roast all the veggies for 25 mins, or just before they start to caramelize. A little blackening at the edges is perfect. Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth in a microwave proof jug, full power for 1 min.
3. With kitchen tongs, lift the roasted veggies into a blender, leaving behind excess olive oil. Pour on the warm chicken broth. If there is too much to fit, do a second batch, or leave out some of the broth. At this stage add the fresh basil leaves, which should entirely disappear with blending.
4. When the mixture is well blended, there shouldn’t be any need for straining. If there are any, push lumps through a sieve. Return the puree to the pot, along with any additional broth and mix well. Now is the time to check the seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. Add about half the lime juice, check for seasoning, and if necessary, add the remainder. (NOTE: winter tomatoes may not have enough tomato flavour, so just add a small can of concentrated tomato paste and cook for five minutes to blend the flavours.) Keep warm on the stove top, with a lid, until you are ready to serve, or put in a bowl, cover with kitchen foil and keep overnight in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, bring back to hot and plate at once.
5. Garnish with a drizzle of heavy cream, a pinch of finely chopped parsley, a toasted crostini and a couple of tiny basil leaves for a final decoration.
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This is Nigel’s 314th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.
Categories: Simply food