For the second of my Venetian recreations I turn to tomato soup.I admit, its not traditionally Venetian (Tuscan I believe) but at my birthday dinner at Bistrot de Venise I ate a chilled tomato soup served with melon & basil and haven’t stopped raving about it since then.
Chilled soup is wonderful for a hot sunny day however it really does benefit from those fresh sun ripened tomatoes which Italy does so well. The best alternative I can find in Scotland is to use organic tomatoes (which like most organic produce actually tastes like it is supposed to). I leave them on the windowsill for a couple days to soak up as much sun as possible which improves the flavour and texture dramatically.
Scotland and its somewhat damp climate does not lend itself so well to a chilled soup regardless of the time of the year. So my recreation is warm and if eaten in the dead of winter snuggled into an armchair I may (just MAY) be able to squint and remember Italy.
Pappa el Pommodoro
The Italians call this soup Pappa el Pommodoro which literally translated means bread and tomatoes. Having no Italian blood inside me whatsoever I refer to this as rustic tomato soup (as a way of differentiating between the good stuff & the Heinz stuff when I offer The Boy a choice for tea).
|My take on Pappa el Pommodoro with crusty bread
This is the kind of soup you think ‘what’s the point?’ until you actually try it. Even, if like me, you dislike raw tomatoes, don’t let it put you off. It is fresh, delicious, cheap to make and can be frozen.Make a huge pot of it, a loaf of bread (or buy a good crusty loaf) and you have an instant feast to feed a crowd of people. This would serve 4.
Add the oil & butter to your biggest soup pot and melt over a low heat. Add the garlic (use either a grater, garlic crusher or slice thinly) & rosemary. Cover and cook for 5mins over a low heat. Check & stir regularly to ensure the garlic doesn’t burn.
Meanwhile, de-seed the tomatoes by cutting them into quarters & slicing out the watery seeds & discard. Then roughly chop the remaining flesh.
|How to de-seed tomatoes.
Slice the crusts off the bread and tear into chunks (you can use any type of bread you have lying around. Normally this would be with stale ciabatta but regular brown or white will do).Add the bread to the pot along with the chopped tomatoes, tin of plum tomatoes, the Parmesan rind & the bay leaf. Season with salt & pepper.
|Soup base – Tinned plum tomtoes, chopped fresh tomatoes, bread, bay & parmesan rind
Using water from the kettle & 2tbsp of vegetable boullion (or 2 stock cubes) make up 1Litre of stock & pour into the pan.Bring to a boiling point & reduce to simmer. Cook over a low heat with the lid on for 40mins.
|What it looks like after cooking for 40mins. In desperate need of blending!
After cooking it will look a little unappetising. The soup will seem too watery & the bread will have puffed up and gone soggy (I used brown bread here). But do not fret. After the soup is blended & the bread has thickened it you wont notice a difference.
Discard the Parmesan rind & bay leaf. Decant the soup into a blender but leave approx 2 ladles in the pot. Blitz with the cream or creme fraiche and pour back into the pot.
Taste & adjust the seasoning if you like then throw a pile of roughly chopped Basil. Stir through & keep on a low heat until ready to serve. Decant into bowls and serve with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. I also like to leave a block of Parmesan cheese & a grater on the table for people to add as they please.
|Topped with grated Parmesan & chunks of basil
Because this soup is so easy to prepare and has a very small ingredient list, it is by its very nature incredibly versatile. Just some ways that I will jazz it up are:
10mins before serving add:
- Fried pancetta cubes
- 1/2 tin of drained tinned beans (borlotti or cannelini are good) or small pasta shapes
- Shredded savoy cabbage approx
It may not win any awards for authenticity but it is a hearty wee bowl of soup. Anything which can be made by flinging stuff into a pot & leaving it to cook of its own accord is good in my book.
Roasted red pepper & tomato
The addition of some roasted red peppers adds a fantastic sweet smokiness.
If you have a gas cooker roast 2 or 3 peppers over the flames (hold them with a kebab skewer or fork) until charred & black. Once done, pop them into a freezer bag & leave for 20mins after which time you should be able to peel off the blackened skin. Don’t worry about removing all of it, if some is left it just adds to the flavour.
Chop it up roughly & add to the pot along with the tomatoes. Alternatively do this under a grill or as I do, on the camping stove brought into the kitchen.
My mini Italian adventure offered up an array of sun-kissed culinary treats and with a little tweaking I find they can be recreated to suit a Scottish climate. With the weather getting duller and Autumn just around the corner this is surely the best time to start stockpiling those recipes for warm comforting food of which should be eaten out of a mug with a spoon on the sofa under a blanket. And I think this might be one of those.