Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fresh Tomato Soup

Is there anything more fun than the Specials board at a nice café or restaurant? For me, nice means fresh, often locally grown food put together with flair.  I love to see what the chef thinks is a good idea, based on seasonal vegetables.  Here in the tropics, many vegetables and fruits are available year round so chefs are spoiled for choice. There is no reason not to be creative.  And the best part of a trip to Singapore is that PORK turns up on the Specials board and menus!  While pork is available in Kuala Lumpur, many of the restaurants do not serve it to cater to the majority Muslim population.

Last weekend I met some wonderful friends for lunch at the PS Café in Paragon Shopping Centre in Singapore.  We were all three delighted to see that the soup-of-the-day was Tomato Bacon. We practically rubbed our hands together in glee (okay, I did) while we ordered each a bowl.  Much to our disappointment, we were informed the tomato soup was finished.  At 11:45 a.m.  Before the lunch crowd even got started.  Turns out that Tomato Bacon was Friday’s soup-of-the-day and no one at the PS Café could be bothered to erase the blackboard and add the new soup for Saturday.  Which turned out to be a very unsatisfying smoked turkey/potato. With deep sighs and eventually justified reservations, we ordered it.  Very disappointing, PS Café.  On at least two fronts.  (They never did change that board the whole time we sat there, and, fair warning, when you puree the whole pot of soup, including the turkey, the soup texture is gritty! )

But ever since then, I have been itching to make my own tomato soup.  This one does indeed have bacon, but, by simply eliminating the bacon step, it would be a delicious fresh vegetarian tomato soup.

Olive oil
105g or 3 3/4 oz bacon
4 cloves of garlic
5 medium ripe red tomatoes
3 oz or 85g tomato paste (half the small can or tin)
1 liter or 4 1/4 cups or almost 34 ounces of vegetable stock (fresh or made with cubes – either would work)
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Black pepper
1/4 cup cream to serve

Chop the bacon into little strips.  In a pan big enough for your soup, fry the bacon with a little olive oil.

Peel and chop the garlic finely.  Here, for the first time, I used smoked garlic which is available in many local stores, but once you get past the smoky outside, the garlic inside seemed pretty much the same as the regular raw garlic.  I was rather disappointed because the outside smelled like an outdoor campfire and reminded me of the happy Girl Scout campouts of my youth.  So go ahead and use normal garlic.

When the bacon is cooked and most of the fat is rendered, add the chopped garlic and let it fry over a low fire for just a few minutes.  You don’t want it to brown which makes garlic bitter. (If you are going for vegetarian soup, start by gently frying the garlic in the olive oil alone.  Remove it from the pan when it softens slightly.)

Meanwhile, halve your tomatoes and remove the core and seeds.  Chop the tomato into small pieces.  Set aside one chopped tomato for later.

Remove the garlic and bacon from the pan.  Or just the garlic if that's the way you roll. 

Add the tomato pieces (not the reserved one!) and give it a quick stir.

Add the liter of stock, the half teaspoon of sugar,  a few good grinds of fresh black pepper and the tomato paste to the pot.

 Allow to cook for 20 minutes on a low to medium heat then puree the soup carefully in a blender.

Add the soup back to the pot and then add in the bacon/garlic pieces and the reserved tomato pieces.   Cook for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and to cook the reserved tomato slightly.

At this point, the soup can be taken off the heat and even cooled, to be served at a later time.   Before serving, gently warm the cream in a microwaveable measuring cup or in a separate pot.  Heat the soup to boiling, turn the stove off and add the cream, stirring well.   

Serve immediately.  Of course, you will need grilled cheese sandwiches or hot buttered toast on the side.  Dipping of either is not only allowed, but encouraged. 


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