I’m writing this at Christmas time, with a view to a light meal to settle, nourish and refresh the system in this time of excess, but this lovely, home-made tomato soup is good for any time of year. This is another of those easy recipes that involve little preparation and finishing, but a long, slow cooking. In other words, you do a few minutes work at the beginning and at the end, and let it cook away and take care of itself for a few hours while you get on with something more interesting. It is a completely vegetarian recipe.
This tomato soup recipe is very flexible, both in terms or quantity and ingredients; follow the suggestions below, but adapt to whatever you like, and whatever you have around – the whole thing is pretty much made with store-cupboard ingredients. If you want more, increase the ingredients; if you want less, make the quantity below and either use it up over the next few days, or freeze the remainder in suitable portions.
To serve four:
Around a two pounds/one kilo of very flavoursome tomatoes – if they are out of season in your part of the world, tinned plum tomatoes are perfect for this, and what I use most of the time. One small to medium onion, peeled and cut in half. Two or three cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole. One or two celery sticks, broken into chunks. One or two carrots, scrubbed, and cut or broken into a couple of chunks. One small orange and one lemon, cut in half across the equator, with most of the obvious pips removed: you don’t have to get them all. Three or four bay leaves, a good sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks. 6-10 whole peppercorns. Water to cover to about twice the depth. NO SALT at this stage.
To finish: two oz/50 grams plain flour and a little more water, shredded fresh basil leaves, or roughly chopped parsley, reserving a few whole sprigs for decoration, home made croutons (see below), a little double cream (optional).
Tip everything except the flour, croutons and basil/parsley into a big pan or stock pot, bring to the boil, then reduce to the lowest simmer and let it gently bubble for three hours or more. Stir occasionally. You could do this stage in a very low oven if it’s more convenient. About twenty minutes before you want to serve, mix the flour to a loose paste with a little water, add to the pan and mix well; don’t worry too much about any lumps, most will cook out and we’ll be getting rid of the rest soon. Continue to cook until the soup looks glossy and the taste of raw flour has gone.
Strain the liquid through a sieve or colander into a suitable container or bowl, and dispose of the solids - you don't blitz them into the soup, although with a bit of picking over, they could be used as a base for a pasta sauce or similar. You can hold it at this stage as long as you like, and refrigerate the soup if necessary. When ready to serve, return the soup to the rinsed/wiped out pan, and gently reheat until piping hot, being careful not to let it "catch" at the bottom now the flour is in. Season with salt to taste. Add the basil or parsley. Pour into serving bowls, decorate with a swirl of cream if you wish, then a couple of home made croutons, topping with a sprig or two of parsley or basil leaves.
Serve your home-made tomato soup with good, crusty bread or rolls.
Cut thin slices of bread into suitable shapes; using a knife or a cookie-cutter. Gently fry the croutons in a little oil in a frying pan, or in a deep-fat fryer, until golden. Drain well on kitchen paper. These can be made well ahead of time, and kept in an airtight container once cold and dry.