Minestrone & Gazpacho

This is the second part of a blog on soups with a tomatoey base, building on the tomato soup/juice recipe I did a while back.  In both cases, you could use that as the base, though starting with fresh ripe tomatoes (peel, seed and chop them) is highly desirable.  This makes either of these soups perfect when you have an end-of-season glut from your own crop.  These are two wonderful ways to use fresh ripe tomatoes, so enjoy!

Minestrone

Minestrone is an Italian vegetable soup, served hot, in which tomatoes are but one ingredient, where Gazpacho is a cold Spanish tomato soup in all its regalia – of which, more shortly.

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My recipe for minestrone varies according to the ingredients available, but in essence the secret is about braising the veg gently and making thick, chunky soup.  It’s not at all complicated, but the essence is preparation.

Key to a successful soup is a really good stock, which could be a home-made ham bone or chicken stock though for non-meat eaters should of course be a veggie stock – preferably made 1-2 days in advance.  A couple of recipes are here and here, though I would always advise the inclusion of a broccoli and/or cabbage stalk, parsley stalks, bay leaves, good quality sea salt and cracked black peppercorns.  Also whole onions quartered – peel and all, plus carrots and whatever other veg you have to hand, they all add flavour.  The more foliage from veg, the better the results.

Secondly, if you’re using dried beans, which can be haricots, borlotti or similar, soak overnight and boil for 40 minutes or so.  Of course, you could use a can, though to some that might seem like cheating!

Once you have made and drained your good stock, chop root and other veg into cubes so they are chunky for soup purposes but not ridiculously big.  These should include onion, carrots, celery, potatoes, garlic (minced) and any others to hand.  Parsnips add sweetness, swedes and fennel work well too.  I personally like leeks and beetroot, chopped green cabbage, mushrooms, courgette and anything else to hand.  Plenty of them too, but remember to add the greens later in the cooking process to ensure they don’t boil down to a mushy mess.

Add olive oil to a big pan with a solid base and add veg, starting with onion.  Sauté to soften but don’t over-heat.  Add veg gradually, with garlic last.  Make sure all get a good coating of oil, then season all with sea salt and black pepper.  Add chopped tomato, fresh or dried thyme and oregano, and more parsley stalks if you have them.   For omnivores, you can add some smoked bacon or ham if you want, though the dish is primarily a vegetable soup.

Sweat for a further 1-2 minutes, then add stock, lots of it.  It should come about two thirds of the way up your pan, which in the case of my stock pot is quite a lot – so you need the right quantity of veg to make for a thick and chunky soup, once it has boiled down.

Bring to the boil, then put the lid on tight and reduce to a very low simmer. and cook for 40-50 minutes.  Add the cooked (or canned) beans, including their liquid and bring back to the boil.  Finally, add some soup pasta and boil gently for a further 8-10 minutes until the pasta is al dente.

Serve in bowls with black pepper, lots of freshly-grated parmesan, a couple of torn basil leaves and plenty of crusty bread.

Gazpacho

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The point of gazpacho is that you have a cold soup with a tangy, zesty flavour of raw tomatoes, vinegar and sugar, the crunch of raw peppers, onions and cucumber, thickened with bread.  In my view the texture should be crunchy and chunky rather than smooth, but you may prefer the latter.  A perfect summer dish, and any number of ways to do it – including those without tomatoes!  This is my way of doing it:

Firstly, take some crusty bread, maybe a day old, dice roughly and put in a bowl.  Add a good slug of sherry vinegar, or white wine vinegar if that isn’t to hand.

Then choose large, ripe tomatoes.  The more you use, the greater the quantity of soup, but as a general rule one large tom per person works out to a bowlful.  Peel the tomatoes by breaking the skin and plunging into boiling water for a few minutes – the skins should come off easily after that.

Chop the toms and discard the seeds.  If you started with 6, put two aside and chop into coarse chunks.  To the remainder add sea salt, black pepper, a teaspoon of sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, then pop in your blender.  To the toms, add the following:

  • Chopped red, yellow and/or green peppers
  • A red onion, coarsely chopped
  • Half a cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
  • The bread soaked with sherry vinegar.

Blitz to your preferred consistency, then add the remaining tomatoes and refrigerate until cold.  Serve with ice cubes, croutons, parsley, chopped spring onions and cucumber, chopped boiled eggs, a small slick of olive oil and black pepper.  Have more sherry vinegar to hand if anyone likes it.

If you want to add a kick, try a little vodka and Worcester sauce to make Bloody Mary soup!

 

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