I’ve been wanting to make tomato soup from scratch for the longest time – actually for the last 20 years or so, ever since a very dear friend, A, described in detail the tomato soup that he made at home. This guy, a dedicated cook and an even more dedicated foodie who had traveled extensively on his stomach (not literally), was also blessed with the gift of the gab.
His description of the cooking process, and the taste of the finished product, had me riveted, and when I finally turned my attention back to the tomato soup that I had ordered (we were having lunch at the Mathura Restaurant in Madras), it had morphed into tomato ketchup diluted with water. Strange, that, because until that point I had loved their tomato soup and ordered it pretty much every time I went there. (Another friend of mine religiously had the French onion soup every single time – now there’s a completely true and completely useless fact for your collection, folks.)
Anyhow, since it was A’s fault that the Mathura tomato soup (with four croutons, no less) had been ruined for me forever, he promised to treat me to his home-made specialty – an occasion that never did materialise for one reason or another, as is wont to happen.
But he is more than aware that he owes me (because I keep reminding him), and at some point when I make a trip to Vancouver, he knows he will have to make good.
The point is, ever since that occasion, home-made tomato soup has always seemed the aspirational apex of home comfort food to me, even though we were not big on soup in my family, really – it was mostly an eating-out thing with us, not made at home. Still, that impression about tomato soup stayed with me over the years, although I never got around to making it myself even after I got interested in cooking... partly because it was so tied-in with A and his promise (something like if I was going to have home-made tomato soup, it was going to be HIS soup or nothing at all).
Luckily, stupidity of even that intensity has an expiry date, and after I’d read a few recipes for tomato soup – not just plain ol’ tomato soup, but roasted tomato soup - I finally twigged to the fact that I might be able to make it myself. Once that realization sank in, it took hardly any time to get around from thought to action. (Well, compare it with the pace of evolution and you’ll see how quick I was. Evolution took Nature millions of years. It only took me four.)
Recipe for: Garlicky roasted tomato soup
5 ripe medium-size plum tomatoes, quartered
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1/4 red scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded (or use any milder chilli to taste)
5-6 large garlic cloves (unpeeled)
4 medium shallots, halved
3-4 cups vegetable stock
Coarse sea salt (optional)
1/4 tsp regular paprika powder
Large pinch of smoked paprika powder
1/4 cup full-fat milk/cream
3-4 generous tbsp olive oil
Plenty of fresh coarsely-ground black peppercorns to taste
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Line a shallow baking tray with foil and grease it with olive oil.
2. Mix together the tomatoes, shallots, peppers, chilli and garlic in a bowl along with the 4-5 tbsp olive oil,
about 1 tsp of the sea salt
and about 1 tbsp coarse-ground black pepper.
3. Pour the coated vegetables onto the greased tray
and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, stirring them after 15 minutes
so as to let them brown evenly.
4. When the vegetable juices begin to caramelise and turn brown, and the tomatoes and onions are soft, turn off the oven.
5. Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze out the pulp into a blender along with the rest of the roasted veg.
6. If there is a lot of caramelized bits sticking to the foil, pour 2-3 tbsp boiling water on the bits and gently scrape with a plastic spatula. Pour the resulting liquidy bits into the blender as well.
7. When sufficiently cool, add about a cupful of stock to the veg, then puree them to your preferred consistency - you can make it really smooth, or leave some chunky bits in. (I made mine fairly smooth.) Add more stock to the blender while pureeing, if required.
8. Mix the soup with the remaining stock in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the whole milk or cream if using,
the paprika, and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Check for seasoning, adding more freshly ground black pepper if required.
9. Serve hot in bowls with fresh crusty bread, toast or grilled sandwiches, topped with a little chopped parsley or basil for garnish.