Thursday, April 5, 2007

Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil and Red Onion

Yesterday I did my grocery shopping at the store nearest to our home. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable doing the weekly shop. A first, there were brand names I did not recognise, fruit and vegetables that came in vastly different sizes and were even, in some cases, called different things. I would stand in the bread aisle and feel an unforgivable urge to cry. Hundreds of colorfully packaged loaves of bread and not one that looked familiar.

Now I know where to find fresh baked bread and my woes are different. It begins with wrestling my shopping cart out of the hallway cupboard. To get to the store I must successfully navigate a large crosswalk with no lights. My rickety shopping cart must be stored precariously in the shop’s own cart before I can begin. Sometimes the idea that I must then stride back and forth through poorly organised aisles weighs heavily as I plunge through the doors. If I am honest, I do not like the store, but there are none closer and the thought of taking my shopping cart on the train fills me with more dread than the thought of taking my chances with the one block walk.

Yesterday was different. Yesterday the sight of a giant display of bright plum tomatoes winking at me from the produce department lifted my spirits enough to propel me through the whole store. Those winks, now safely jostling with red onions in my cart, held the promise of soup.

I love soup. I make it almost every lunch time, sometimes labouring over fresh vegetables, sometimes opening canned beans and blitzing up something quick and filling, sometimes pulling a labelled bag from the freezer. The household favorite is leek and potato but if it can be made into soup, I've added it to stock. My kitchen even has a special hand-held blender which I use specifically for the creation of soup. By special, I mean cheap: and loved.

Back home, my mother makes a tomato soup at the end of summer, with the excess of tomatoes from my father’s grow-bags, which year after year sit by the back door and produce varying quantities of fruit. There are never enough. In mummy’s tomato soup, there are to be found, all those tomatoes deemed not worthy of the salad plate and potatoes, for thickness. This is, after all, approaching fall and the frozen leftovers will need to sustain us through the winter.

Today, as we face the possibility of spring, despite the unseasonable cold and the odd flurry of snow, I felt the need for something a little lighter, although still warming. It’s currently cold in the Mid-West. I needed something that could convince my palate, if not my cold hands, that spring is around the very next corner. Roasted tomato and red onion soup seemed to fit the bill.

Just over two lbs of plum tomatoes, red onion and basil roasted with sparing amounts of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and castor sugar for about an hour at 400˚. Then they simmered away with some stock, around a pint and a half, until the tomatoes broke down and the red onions had leaked away all of their remaining colour. It took about 40 minutes on a low heat before my lunch was ready.

Probably laziness coming through, but I prefer my soups to have some substance. I do not blend them too finely and I have never, ever, strained. Finding a stray basil leaf is part of the fun. It also means that you get to eat quicker. I would guess it is also responsible for the burnt ochre colour of this soup; along with the balsamic vinegar. Just some salt and pepper and a ladle; and the cheeky winks had become soothing murmurs from the bottom of a bowl. At the end of the summer, this would make a perfect treat with more red onion added. Until then, it keeps out the spring chill.

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