Friday, 16 April 2010

South African Tomato and Onion Soup with Roast-Garlic and Camembert Toast

Tomato and Onion Soup with Roast-Garlic and Camembert Toasts
Spend any time in South Africa, and sooner or later you'll come across the nation's
favourite sauce: chopped onions and tomatoes, slowly cooked to an unctuous rust-coloured gravy. The sauce is served with mieliepap [maize porridge], with samp and with bread; it's dolloped over sizzling boerewors rolls, served alongside curries and stews, and is an essential side-dish with braaied [barbecued] meat.

 There are as many variations of this sauce in South Africa as there are cooks: some purists insist on just tomatoes, onions, oil and salt and pepper; others add garlic, wine, herbs and spices. Chakalaka, said to have been invented by Johannesburg's migrant mine-workers, is a highly spiced African relish that includes chillies, peppers and curry spices, plus - depending on who's making it - carrots, beans, cabbage, and so on.

I can't enjoy bangers and mash (my last-meal-on-earth dish) without a tomato-and-onion gravy, well thickened with Bisto, because this is they way I ate them as a teenager. I'd arrive home at 4 o' clock, bone-tired and cold, on a Highveld winter afternoon, to find a foil-covered dish of hot Eskort pork bangers and golden-crusted mash in the oven, plus - oh joy! - a saucepan of gloopy gravy on the stovetop.

In its most basic form, a tomato-and-onion sauce is just that: you cook the onions to a melting softness in olive oil or butter, tip in the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook with a little water or wine until it's ready. I've tried to reproduce the simple, sunny flavours of this sauce in this soup, using only the essential ingredients. The first time I made this soup, frying the ingredients and then diluting them with stock, it was tasty, but lacked body, and had no depth of flavour. The second time round, I lightly caramelised the onions on the stove-top, added the tomatoes and then put the whole lot into the oven to slow-bake for an hour, and this intensifying of the flavours did the trick.

This is a slightly chunky soup, because the tomatoes are not peeled. Peel them if you have to, but it won't taste the same. Please use a good chicken or vegetable stock - see my notes at the end of the recipe - and not a stock cube, which will ruin the clean flavours of this soup .

Tomato and Onion Soup with Roast-Garlic and Camembert Toasts
16 small (plum-sized) onions, or 8 large onions, peeled
3 T (45 ml) olive oil
2 T (30 ml) butter
1 T (15 ml) white sugar
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar
16 ripe, juicy tomatoes
salt and milled black pepper
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
100 ml cream
1 T (15 ml) Tabasco sauce (or more, to taste)

For the toasts:
1 full head of garlic
a baguette, or some rolls, sliced
2 tsp (10 ml) olive oil
1 medium-sized ripe camembert cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Peel the onions and cut them in half, vertically (if you're using large onions, cut them into quarters). Heat the oil and butter on your stove-top, in a heavy roasting pan. Add the onions and sugar and fry, over a medium heat, tossing frequently, for four to five minutes, or until the onions are a rich golden colour. Don't allow them to catch or burn. Stir in the vinegar and allow to bubble for a minute. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Place in the oven and bake for an hour and a quarter, or until the tomatoes have collapsed and the onions are very tender.

Half-way through the cooking time, wrap the whole head of garlic in tin foil, and place it in the oven.

Remove the tray, and the head of garlic, from the oven (don't switch off the oven; turn it up to 200 C). Set the garlic packet aside to cool. Pour the stock over the tomatoes and onions, stirring well to release any sediment. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and purée, using a stick blender (or tip the whole lot into a liquidizer). If the mixture seems too chunky, add a little more stock or water. Gently reheat the soup on your stovetop. Stir in the cream and the Tabasco sauce and adjust the seasoning.

To make the toasts, slice the baguette or rolls and place them, two at a time, in a toaster. Pile the slices on a plate while you prepare the topping. While the bread's toasting, cut off the top of the head of garlic with a pair of sharp scissors or a knife. Squeeze the soft garlic pulp into a little bowl, mash in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cut the Camembert into 5mm slices. Spread each slice with a little mashed garlic, and top with a slice of cheese. Place the slices on a baking sheet and place in the hot oven for a few minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.

Serve the soup piping hot, with the cheesy toast.

Serves 6.

Note about stock:  The difference between a nice soup and a truly delicious one is the stock, so here's how to make a quick, easy, inexpensive chicken stock (if you're a vegetarian, here is a recipe for a good vegetable stock).   Buy a packet of chicken wings, which usually come in sixes or eights.  If your supermarket doesn't have them, ask the butcher for a chicken carcass.  Place the wings or carcass in a saucepan and cover with a litre of cold water.  Add any or all of the following flavourings: two carrots, a halved onion, a stick of celery, a few stalks of parsley,  a chopped tomato, a handful of mushrooms, a bay leaf, two whole cloves, a sprig of thyme and six peppercorns.  Bring slowly to the boil.  Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for an hour,  skimming off any grey scum as it rises. Strain through a colander into a bowl, and use, as directed, in the recipe.
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Wendy @ Mint Tea said...

Lovely recipe and post, all makes me a bit homesick this morning!

Nina Timm said...

Can i tuck right in....looks so comforting with the oozing cheese!!!

Sam said...

I also grew up in the Highveld, so can totally relate to your coming home from school story, and the love of Eskort pork sausages. yum!

Rose&Thorn said...

This is a miracle - a recipe sent just in time before the of the last of the box of tomatoes I bought turn bad. This is in my oven today - and I'll freeze what left.

Kit said...

Great flavours! I also made it the soup to use up our glut of tomatoes and it was wonderfully warming for lunch three days in a row. I'm hoping we've not had the last of the tomatoes yet so that I can make it again!

Anonymous said...

omg this is awesome!!!!! so flavorful and so easy, thank you

Jane-Anne said...

Dear Anon

Thank you very much for your comment!