We had an outstanding harvest from the veg garden this year, the best I can remember. This, I hasten to add was down to the wonderful weather and not to any skill on my part.
It couldn’t really have been much worse than the last two years, so any produce at all really, was going to be an improvement.
The cucumbers let me down a bit though. I had three plants which appeared to be healthy and strong but only produced two cucumbers between them. Disappointing, but then they have never been my strong point.
Today I made this tasty tomato and red pepper soup as the last hurrah from our own tomatoes - those few remaining ones which have been ripening in a bowl on the windowsill in the kitchen.
Ripe, sweet, deep red and delicious, they called out to be made into a scrummy soup or sauce. So, as we were short of something for lunch, soup it was. I added some roasted red peppers for a deeper flavour and cheated with these, in the absence of fresh peppers, using roast peppers in oil from a jar (the ones in brine from a tin or jar would have done just as well).
The peppers offer an intense, richer and fuller flavour to the soup but without overpowering with their strong taste.
If you didn’t know they were in there, you wouldn’t know. However, should you prefer a more peppery flavour add two jars, or two or three seeded and sliced fresh peppers.
To get the best flavour from tomatoes, store them at room temperature. The fridge is a real no-no as it dulls their flavour and prevents them from ripening any further.
This is especially important now, with winter around the corner, as the supermarket tomatoes tend to be rather on the watery, tasteless side. Left out of the fridge, they will continue to ripen and their taste will be greatly enhanced.
Buy the best you can afford too, such as tomatoes on the vine, which although more expensive, have a superior taste.
Should your tomatoes still be tasteless, roast them in the oven before turning them into soup. Alternatively use tinned tomatoes which are excellent for so many things.
Finally, always add a good pinch or two of sugar when cooking tomatoes as this brings out their flavour and greatly enhances them.
I would recommend making any soup in fairly large batches, which can be stored in the fridge for several days, or frozen.
It is so much more delicious, nutritious and healthy, not to mention cheaper than buying it. Soup makes a very easy lunch, either to transport in a flask or enjoy at home.
Continuing along the Mediterranean theme of olive oil, tomatoes and peppers, I have accompanied this soup with Tapenade Croûtes – very tasty little toasties to dunk or eat alongside, which makes the soup a more substantial, satisfying lunch.
Tapenade is a black olive paste or paté, but Pesto sauce would be just as good if you prefer.
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Tomato and red pepper soup with tapenade croutes (serves eight)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
A good pinch of dried oregano
2lbs (900g) fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped or, 2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
1x285g jar of roast peppers, drained
A pinch of sugar
18floz (500mls) chicken or vegetable stock (I use a pouch from the supermarket, or a stock cube will do instead)
Double cream or crème frâiche (optional)
Tapenade from jar below (optional)
8 slices of bread
1x120g jar of tapenade
(you won’t need it all)
1 Heat a little olive oil in a good sized saucepan, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over a gentle heat until softened but
not brown. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for another minute or so.
2Add the tomatoes, the drained peppers and a good pinch of sugar. If using tinned tomatoes, rinse out the tins with a little water and add this too. Add the stock and some seasoning, bring up to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
3Whilst the soup is cooking, make the croutes. Cut each slice of bread into three fingers or four triangles, put onto a baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil and sea salt and cook in a medium oven for about five minutes or until beginning to brown around the edges. Spread each slice with some tapenade.
4Liquidise the soup in batches, and then pass through a sieve with the help of a wooden spoon. Check the seasoning and stir in a little cream or crème frâiche, if using. Thin with a little extra stock or water if you prefer the soup a bit thinner. Serve with a swirl of cream and/or a swirl of tapenade (see below) and the croutes, either warm or cold.
Hints & Tips
If garnishing with a tapenade “swirl”, put two teaspoons of it into a ramekin or small bowl, and dilute it down to a smoother, runnier consistency with a little olive oil.
The soup will last in the fridge for up to four days and freezes beautifully. The croutes can be made a day in advance but don’t top with tapenade until just before eating. Use pesto if you prefer.