Saturday 25 October 2008

Umami Tomato Soup: passion in a bowl

The deepest, cleanest fix I can get is from a bowl of hot tomato soup. Look, everyone has a crazy food-monkey, and my particular monkey has a wild craving for tomato soup. It started year or so ago, when I developed an insatiable taste for hot, spicy soup.

For a while, this instant curried soup, made in jiffy, with canned chickpeas, tomatoes, coconut milk, and so on, satisfied me. Then, when the tomato bug hit hard, I experimented with various tomato soups, including my grandmother's famous tomato soup, which was very good, but not quite intense enough. Several soups later, I came up with Roast Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, which seemed to hit the spot for a few months.

But, the nature of an addiction is that it is insatiable, and I needed a more intense taste, so I experimented once again, and came up with this soup, which has a deep, lip-smacking, cheek-slapping flavour.

I was inspired to hotfoot it into the kitchen for soup experimentation after I watched an episode of Heston Blumenthal's cookery programme In Search of Perfection. Blumenthal, a culinary genius and ground-breaker in the field of taste and flavour, recently discovered - and scientifically proved - that the pulp and seeds of tomatoes are a rich source of the elusive umami flavour, also known as the 'fifth flavour'. More about umami here.

So that's why I've called this soup Umami Soup. This is quite a rough, textured soup: if you are looking for posh haute soup, you will need to peel the tomatoes before you add them to the pot, and sieve the soup after liquidising it. I can't be bothered and, besides, I like tomato skin. This soup feeds eight to ten, but is easily halved.

Umami Tomato Soup

4 T [60 ml] olive oil
2 large, ripe red peppers [bell peppers or capsicums], seeded and roughly chopped
2 kg very ripe, sweet red tomatoes, roughly chopped, skins, pips and all
2 tins canned Italian tomatoes
2 T [30 ml] concentrated tomato paste
4 fat cloves of fresh garlic, skinned and chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda*
a pinch of good-quality mixed dried herbs [for example, Herbs de Provence. Don't use fresh herbs, which will distract from the tomato taste]
1 t [5 ml] Tabasco sauce
1 t [5 ml] sugar
enough fresh chicken or vegetable stock to cover the tomatoes [if you don't have stock, use a good stock cube]
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300 ml thin cream

Turn your hot plate or gas ring on to its hottest setting and place a large, deep soup pot over the heat. When the pan is very hot, add the olive oil, wait for a minute until it is spitting, and then throw in the chopped red pepper. Toss the chunks in the hot oil until they just begin to blacken in spots. Now turn down the heat to medium and tip in all the chopped tomatoes, the tinned tomatoes, the tomato paste, half the garlic and the bicarbonate of soda. Cook for 30 minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, and breaking up any tomato chunks with the back of a spoon. Add the herbs, the Tabasco sauce, the sugar and the remaining garlic. Pour over just enough stock or water to cover the tomatoes. Allow to bubble fairly briskly for another ten to fifteen minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Tip the mixture into a liquidizer or or food processor fitted with a sharp blade, and whizz until smooth. [You can also use a stick blender]. If want a perfectly silken soup, sieve the mixture into a deep bowl by pressing it through a sieve or strainer with the back of a soup ladle. Return the soup to the pot. Gently reheat the soup, and gradually dribble in the cream. Don't be tempted to add the cream in a gush, as it may curdle, and don't allow the soup to boil. Check the seasoning - this soup needs lots salt - and serve hot, with a swirl of olive oil and perhaps a dot or two of Tabasco sauce.

Serves eight to ten.

* Don't ask me why this recipe needs bicarb, but it does, and this was an important component of my Granny's tomato soup. Oh duh, I get it: the bicarb reduces the tomatoes' acidity.
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Anonymous said...

Sounds good. Just like mine, but better. Will try the bicarb. I like to add black treacle to mine. David. [Another good soup is made with liquidised canned carrots, the cheap ones, economy at 12p a can. They make a velvet soup with all the usual ingredients added to taste (does not work so well with fresh carrots, for some reason.)]

Jane-Anne said...

Hi David. Thanks for the comment! I am glad you enjoyed the soup. I haven't seen canned carrots here in South Africa.

chocolatecup said...

oooh. what i would give for a bowl of tomato soup right now.

Antony Carthy said...

I am put off by the dried herbs. Dried herbs don't have flavour. What would be wrong with some basil or italian parsley?

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Antony. You could use fresh herbs, I suppose, but what I am aiming for here is a clean tomato taste. I disagree that dried herbs have no taste - good herbs de Provence and Greek dried oregano are packed with flavour.

Antony said...

OK - I take your word for it, but some fresh basil seems to pair so well with tomato soup and it doesn't dominate at all.

I will be on the lookout for dried herbs that you mentioned. Perhaps they will challenge my extreme distaste for dried herbs in general!

Steve said...

Made this for a crowd last weekend: tripling the quantities yielded about 9 litres with very little extra stock added. Wonderful concentrated tomato flavours with a deep, rich umami finish. Lots of appreciative murmurs, and no fewer than three calls during the past week scrounging an invite for more...

"Very ripe, sweet red tomatoes" are in short supply at the moment, so some of the pale & uninteresting ones were consigned to a 140C oven for a couple of hours. For the rest I just followed the recipe without any problems. The only departure was the cream to finish. It's almost impossible to get a group together in Cape Town without one or two poor souls who are either Vegan or lactose-intolerant. To play it safe, I added a little arrowroot at the end, giving a convincingly creamy texture and perhaps even better flavour release than the dairy.

Great recipe ... thanks J-A!