I made this soup on Friday, as a late-night warmer for my family, who had come over for a glass or five of champagne, and some light snackery. I served it piping hot, topped with cold basil mayonnaise, in small shot 'glasses' (clear, square plastic ice-cream holders, which I bought from a Cape Town baking shop), and did so only because I foolishly hadn't made enough soup to give everyone a hearty bowlful. But the soup-shots worked well, and everyone stumbled off homewards with warm tummies.
(I've become something of a fan of soup-shots since the evening my friends got rat-faced on my Iced Beetroot and Gin Shots).
And - joy - there was some left over the next morning. As is always the case with stews and soups, the flavour had improved overnight. I had some for breakfast, with some hot buttered toast.
As always, the quality of the raw ingredients determines how good the soup will taste. Ripe, plump, vividly coloured vegetables with fresh, unbruised stalks will produce a soup of unrivalled quality.
This recipe serves 6, but is easily doubled.
Roast Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayonnaise
5 large, perfectly ripe tomatoes
2 fat eggplants [aubergines/brinjals], or four smaller ones
2 large, deep-red peppers [capsicums]
8 courgettes [zucchini]
2 large white onions, peeled
½ cup (125 ml) good virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
6 fat cloves garlic, unpeeled
5 cups (1.25 l) water, plus more for thinning
For the basil mayonnaise:
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
200 ml light vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola oil, or any other flavourless oil)
100 ml good olive oil
1 cup (250 ml, loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
1 t (5 ml) flaky sea salt
the juice of a large lemon
freshly milled black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Using a very sharp knife, top and tail the tomatoes, eggplants, red peppers, courgettes and onions, and cut them into thinnish slices (5 mm, or so, thick). Pile all the vegetable slices into large, deep-sided roasting tin, or an ovenproof ceramic dish. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables, season very generously with salt and pepper and, using your hands, toss well to coat. Tuck the six unpeeled garlic cloves deep into the vegetable bed (but remember where you've hidden them).
Place the roasting pan, uncovered, in an oven heated to 200ºC, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to turn golden brown in patches. Cover the roasting pan with a layer of tin foil (or a lid, if you have one that fits), turn the oven down to 180ºC, and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, or until the veggies are soft. Remove the roasting tray from the oven. Fish the whole garlic cloves out of the pan, and set aside on a plate. Pour the water (1.5 l) into the pan, replace the foil, and bake at the same temperature for another 15 minutes. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
Set the mayonnaise aside. Roughly chop the basil leaves and put them into a mortar along with the salt. Pound to a rough paste. (If you don't have a mortar, put the leaves and salt onto a wooden chopping board, and smash them with a rolling pin). Scrape the pounded basil into a little bowl. Take three of the roast garlic cloves you have set aside and squeeze the soft, baked pulp into the basil mixture. Add the fresh lemon juice and stir well. Now stir this mixture into the mayonnaise, season to taste with salt and pepper, tip into a clean bowl, and refrigerate.
Now liquidise the soup. Tip the contents of the roasting pan into a big bowl, and blitz with a stick blender, or use a food processor or liquidizer to process to a slightly rough puree. If the soup mixture seems too thick, or the blades refuse to turn, thin it down with a little boiling water. Squeeze the pulp of the remaining three cloves of baked garlic into the mixture, season with salt and pepper to taste, and blitz for another minute.
Return the soup to the stovetop and reheat. Serve piping hot, topped with a dollop of cold basil mayonnaise.