A reciprocal arrangement.
I spied these little mugs in a charity shop last week, at £3 for the 4 of them I picked them up immediately. Mathew eyed me with that ‘we have no space for those’ look, but I didn’t let that stop me “Look how cute they are!” I said, clutching them, and before he could reply I hurried to the till.
Since moving to the big city I find myself squeezing my food styling purchases into any and all available nooks and crannies in our flat. And given that I’m not prepared to stop my rummaging ways, it’s a trend that’s set to continue, much to Mathew’s disapproval.
To redeem myself I like to put all new buys to good use straight away, and I filled these mugs with the thought that had popped in to my head when I first clapped eyes on them — a rich tomato soup. Now, you could reach for the tinned stuff, but making your own is infinitely tastier and far easier than you might think, and you get chance to make it your own with whatever twist you fancy.
I made the soup with a base of carrots, celery and onions cooked gently to soften them, then added fresh tomatoes, pasatta, stock, tomato purée and seasoning, and simmered the pot for just 20 minutes so the vegetables could soften before being blended until smooth. Then I gave it a grown up twist by adding a tiny amount of liquid smoke extract.
Popularised by the Americana food trend, all things smoked have become pretty fashionable in recent years. And for those that don’t want to invest in home smoking kit, there are many liquid smoke extracts that have made it on to the market. You can buy them all over the place and while I can’t vouch for the quality of all of them, a judicious drop here and there of a decent one can add great depth and smokey interest to all kinds of meals. I picked mine up from MSK and have been very pleased with it so far.
The finished soup was silky and rich with a light smokey hint, and for extra bite I topped it with some crunchy little cheese croutons that are really easy to make under the grill. It was just the ticket to get myself back in the good books and to ensure Mathew doesn’t start hocking my food styling collection on eBay in an attempt to create space. Though if we don’t move to a bigger gaff soonish maybe I need to make like men of a certain age and get myself a nice big shed. Now there’s a thought.
Soup for four
- 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
- 2 medium red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 600g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 600ml pasatta
- 1l light chicken/vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt flakes
- A generous grind of black pepper
- A knob of butter
- A slug of olive oil
- 2 drops (no more!) of MSK smoke extract (it’s a high concentrate, so if you’re using a different brand, adjust how much you put in depending on how strong you know it to be)
- 3 slices of bread, crusts removed, diced and left to dry in a low oven for 20 minutes
- 20g finely grated cheese, I chose Parmesan but you could use whatever you like — Cheshire would be nice
- Cream, chopped chives and extra virgin olive oil for finishing
- In a large pot fry on a medium heat in a little olive oil and a knob of butter the onions, carrots and celery for around 10 minutes until they start to soften.
- Add the fresh tomatoes to the pan with the pasatta, stock, tomato puree, salt, sugar and pepper and stir to combine. Put a lid on and bring up to a rapid simmer.
- Remove the lid and turn the heat down to a more gentle simmer and let the soup cook uncovered for around 20 minutes — the carrots need to be soft, once they are, remove the pan from the heat.
- Blend the soup with a stick blender and then add the smoke extract and stir thoroughly. Place back onto the hob on a low heat.
- Turn the grill on and take the diced croutons and tip them onto a baking sheet, get them close together so there are few gaps.
- Sprinkle half of the grated cheese over the croutons and grill until the cheese melts and starts to turn brown, then remove and carefully so you can do it in once piece, turn the croutons over, sprinkle the other side with the remaining cheese and place back under the grill. Once browned, remove and leave to cool a moment, then brake up the croutons with your fingers into individual pieces.
- Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, top with a swirl of cream, extra virgin olive oil, a spoon of the croutons and pinch of the chopped chives.