This is a recipe borrowed from Felicity Cloake, and despite the frugality of the ingredients, it is a soup that manages to be both wholesome and elegant at once. Ever since moving to London, I have become a huge proponent of the humble soup. Of course, they are easy and cheap to make, suitable for both lunch and dinnertime, but I am particularly partial to making soups on account of their virtuous health benefits.
In November, I felt unhealthy in a way that I had rarely done so before. My skin experienced a terrible break-out—the kind that makes you very self-conscious; the glands beneath my chin were swollen; my gums were sore. I appeared to be perpetually fighting off some unknown but menacing virus. Around this time, I began to actively look for ways in which to introduce more vegetables into my diet, and soups are one of the most obvious and vital ways to do just that. In addition, there is something frightfully soothing about chopping up some veg after a long day, cooking until soft and mildly sludgy, and carefully blending to the right consistency.
On my Instagram I posted ‘Make soup for your sanity’ and I meant this in the most earnest of ways. In general, cooking is a wonderful way to escape the knotty complexities of the mind, transferring attention to the hands through the physical act of ‘making’. I find that even after the most terrible of days, an hour or two in the kitchen can alleviate stress and re-focus the mind elsewhere. When sitting before a bowl of steaming, homemade soup, one cannot help but feel smugly angelic even though the world may be collapsing all around you.
For this soup, do spend a little extra on good quality, tasty tomatoes, the kind that are deepest, plummiest-red, if possible.
1kg of tomatoes
1 white onion
A handful of basil leaves and stalks
1 tsp of chilli flakes
A tsp of sugar
600ml of chicken stock
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar
A tbsp or two of crème fraiche
Begin by roasting the tomatoes in a hot oven until soft and ever-so-slightly charred. Slice in half and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of sugar. Drizzle with olive oil.
Slice the onion finely and fry in a large saucepan with some butter for flavour. Peel and dice the carrot into small chunks and add to the pan.
Chop up the basil, including some of the stalks and stir into the onion and carrot.
Once the tomatoes are soft and squelchy, singed at the edges, plop them into the saucepan, along with any juices. Pour in the chicken stock (I used Kallo organic cubes). Season as preferred and sprinkle with some chilli flakes. Bring to the boil, and then allow to simmer until the veg is softened.
Turn off the heat and blend until smooth. Serve in a warmed bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I cannot recommend the addition of the vinegar enough; it really elevates the flavour of the soup. A basil leaf or two to finish.
Makes about four servings.