One of life's culinary conundrums…. is a tomato a fruit, or a vegetable? Botanically speaking, it’s definitely a fruit due to its seeds, but in the minds of nutritionists and chefs it’s classed as a vegetable and has many fantastic savoury uses in the kitchen.
The summer is obviously the best time for British tomatoes but that shouldn't stop you making this tasty and easy fresh soup at any time of year.
During the winter months in the UK we normally buy supermarket vine-ripened tomatoes from Spain or the Canary Islands, and while these won't have the intensity of taste of a good home grown summer variety, by roasting them in the oven with some aromatic herbs before using, you can give this soup a head start in the taste race.
Even better is if you know someone with a greenhouse who is a serious gardener and grows their own tomatoes. My mother sometimes gives me a lovely tomato or two from her greenhouse every other month during the summer, which admittedly, isn't going to challenge the EU's 16 million ton production, but it keeps her happy.
Most tomatoes are grown under glass these days and new growing techniques mean that a tasty tomato can be found most months in the year, if you know where to look. And that means none of the cheap 'salad' tomatoes you see in some supermarkets, which are so hard and tasteless that even my dog spits them out when I throw him one.
Try to get tomatoes still on the vine for maximum flavour, and plum tomatoes are very good for flavour. But the bottom line is whatever the type of tomato you get, just make sure they smell good and are as ripe as they can be.
The secret to this simple recipe is the roasting of the tomatoes and peppers in olive oil and herbs which really intensifies their flavour. Try and roast them until they are starting to char at the edges (the tomatoes will collapse) but don't let them go too far. You want those slightly blackened edges but still retain all the juices.
10 ripe large tomatoes (plum would be great) but any will do as long as they are ripe.
3 large red peppers
Few sprigs of rosemary
4-5 bay leaves
4-5 sprigs of thyme
Good handful of fresh basil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and very lightly squished
Tomato ketchup (good squirt) or heaped tsp tomato puree
A splash of good wine vinegar or balsamic to taste
Vegetable stock - about 500ml
A little sugar if the tomatoes aren't that sweet, if needed
Salt & pepper
Firstly, deseed the red peppers and cut them into wedges - about 6 to 8. Then cut the tomatoes into 3-4 thick slices.
Place both into a roasting tray (you may need 2 trays) and coat with some olive oil. Distribute the rosemary, basil, thyme, garlic and bay leaves among the tomatoes and peppers and season with salt. Mix around again (I use my hands to do this as it is more efficient than a spatula or spoon), sprinkling with a bit more olive oil if you think it needs it.
Place in a 200°C/180°C oven, roast for about 30 minutes, give everything a stir and then cook for another 10-15 minutes until the peppers are just starting to go black at the edges.
Take out of the oven, cool for a few minutes and remove the woody rosemary stalks and the bay leaves. Place the vegetables in a liquidiser or food processor along with a splash of whatever vinegar you are using, a good squirt of ketchup and salt and pepper to taste.
Blend the soup and add as much vegetable stock as you want depending on how thick or thin you prefer your soup. Have a taste and add a little sugar if you think it needs it. Sometimes it depends on the ripeness of the tomatoes on whether you need that little extra sweetness.
And that is your soup done. Gently reheat and pour into bowls and tuck in with some freshly baked crusty bread. The soup tastes just as good heated through the next day with a little swirl of creme fraiche or cream.