This soup stands up as both a starter or a main course. It has a chunky texture and draws on all the flavours of the ingredients. The real beauty, of course, is how simple it is to make. I always like to serve it with bread croûtons cut from a loaf of crusty or olive bread and then fried or baked in olive oil. Also, fresh Parmesan flakes (done with a potato peeler) sprinkled over the soup are really delicious, but of course all these bextras are really up to you. This soup can make a great vegetarian dish – simply leave out the bacon and replace the chicken stock with a vegetable stock.
Sweat the chopped onions, carrots and celery in the olive oil and butter for a few minutes, then add the herbs, bay leaf and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the bacon and continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are slightly softened.
Cut the tomatoes into quarters and then cut again into eight pieces. Add them to the vegetables, cover the pan and cook gently for about 15 minutes. The cooking will create its own steam and slowly cook the tomatoes. The mixture must be stirred occasionally, which will help the tomatoes to break down and start to create the soup.
When the tomatoes have softened, start to add the chicken stock, just a ladle at a time, until you have a looser consistency. This brings us to personal choice. The soup can be as thick or as thin as you like. Leave it to cook for a further 20 minutes. Check for seasoning, and you may find that a little tomato purée will help the strength of taste. The soup is now ready to serve.
© 1994 Gary Rhodes. All rights reserved.