Growing up in the Blomfield house (my house dummies!) if we started coming down with the dreaded drip nose, or hacking up lung butter by the gallon, we weren’t given some wussy, insipid bowl of dead chicken water, our colds required a more robust, remedy. Something with more substance than the limp, opaque cold cure so eagerly gobbled down by the infected masses. Something……. RED! Thats right, our first stop for cold comforting was not dreary old, flavourless chicken broth, we were all about tomato soup. Not that the old homestead was doing anything revolutionary with our bowls of liquid life, in fact I’m pretty sure it came straight out of a can, but on those damp, nose drippy days, rugged up on the couch, valiantly battling the cold grip of death and watching that battered old VHS copy of Indiana Jones, that shit was the best!
When ever I think of ‘soup’ as a concept, my mind is immediately drawn back to those steamy bowls of red velvet (straight from the can or not). As a child, it took my a really long time to warm to the idea of other ingredients being worthy of soup status; why would one waste their time with an inferior liquid lunch when you could go straight for the best? And yet given my deeply heartfelt affinity for tomato soup, as I have progressed though my career as a chef, amassing a wealth of knowledge that would no doubt have allowed me to elevate the simple soup to new, unimagined heights, I have never once made my child hood favourite from scratch.
Nowadays illness is tackled with a fist full of pills and a good old fashioned 12 hour shift on the hot line. Days on the couch fighting off the cold grip of death with trusty old Indy, have been traded for propping ones self up at the stoves, fighting off the ever rising tide of stress, pressure and tickets, and enough trusty old ibuprofen to get you through the next 11 hours. Then as your reward for soldiering on and surviving the onslaught despite your severely diminished capacity, you now have the honour of collapsing in a feverish heap on the train ride home after the longest clean down of your life, surrounded by the junkies and the rejects you have inevitably come to share the wee hours with. Unfortunately, most kitchens are run with a skeleton crew (if you are lucky that is!). This means that if you take a day off for a wee sniffle, a minor head cold, or pussy little case of explosive diarrhoea, some poor shmuck has to come in to cover you, and lose one of their coveted days off. Unless you are in hospital, or better yet dead, you get your ass to work.
Anyway back to tomato soup. I was naturally excited about this assignment as it gave me not only an excuse to sink into the comforting embrace of an old, long lost lover (the soup that is….) but it gave me the opportunity to cast my magical chef wand over an old school recipe, and attempt to breathe some new life into the old girl. Given that it is the end of summer and our little backyard tomato orchard is winding down for another year, we could not think of a better way to honour and preserve this wonderful product at the end of what has been a great growing season.
- 1500g mixed tomatoes cored and chopped yield:920g
- 280g onion chopped
- 30g garlic peeled and chopped
- 4g fresh chilli chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2g fresh thyme finely chopped
- 4g fresh oregano finely chopped
- 20g fresh basil
- 30g olive oil
- 2g smoke paprika
- 2g sumac
- 60g tomato paste
- 15g Lea and perrins
- 100g sugar cane vinegar
- 45g brown sugar
- 25g salt
Saute the onions in a large pot in the olive oil over a low heat. I would not recommend cooking at a high heat with olive oil as it has a low flash point (that is it burns at a lower temperature than other oils, and after that actually becomes carcinogenic), I tend to treat olive oil a lot like butter, cook gently.
Once your onions are nice and soft add the garlic, chilli and herbs. Stir the mix until well combined and cook out for 3-4 minutes until the herbs and garlic are very fragrant and then add your spices. Stir the spices in and cook for 1 minute and then drop the tomato paste into the mix. Cook this out for roughly 3 minutes stirring frequently, and once it begins to caramelize and stick to the pot slightly, add the Lea and Perrins and the vinegar. Scrape up the sticky mess of the bottom of the pot and then we come to the main event, drop the tomatoes in there and give it a real good mix!
Cook the tomatoes gently until the liquid starts to come out, we are not adding any extra liquid to this soup, we are literally cooking the tomatoes in their own juice. Add your salt and brown sugar and bring your tomato juice to a gentle simmer. Give the soup one more good stir to make sure it is not sticking and then cover and cook for 1 ½ hours on a low temperature, stirring every 30mins.
Once the time is up, and your tomato soup is gloriously thick and deep red, remove it from the heat and stir in the basil. Let the basil steep for a good 10 minutes and the pass the soup through a food mill. This will remove the skins and the basil leaves from the soup while leaving you with a nice chunky consistency, a blender will leave you with a soup that is smooth but altogether less satisfying. Check the seasoning.
Now ladle that piping hot mess into a large bowl, top with fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil and serve with some heavily buttered, crusty bread. I would recommend saving this goodness for a particularly rainy, shitty day, but this will taste great in all weather conditions. Enjoy!