Friday, 12 April 2013

April Outline article: Tomato and basil soup

Below is my April column for Outline Magazine; on lurgy, tomato soup, and impure thoughts about Jon Snow (no, not the news presenter).

I’m generally all for a bit of cold weather. Summer is far too much like hard work – I spend most of it with a sweaty fringe and an overriding preoccupation with how to cover my upper arms. Winter is much more dignified. It has big coats and scarves; log fires, mulled wine, CHRISTMAS (remember Christmas?). As it approaches I can pretend that I’m living in an episode of Game of Thrones, and any minute now I’ll bump into the handsome, young Jon Snow. Jon and I will take his pet direwolf for a walk, feast on roast boar, and then he’ll lay a load of bear skins down in a snowy cave and hang his cloak up and we’ll...
But Jon never showed up, and now it’s April and I’m still sat here wearing three jumpers and a balaclava in my living room to keep warm. My 200 denier tights have lost their elastic through overuse, the cat hasn’t a clue what stage of malting it’s meant to be at, and with every turn of the gas meter I can hear the pounds dropping into British Gas’s pockets and a fat cat grin spreading across the CEO’s face. It’s fair to say the novelty of a bit of a chill in the air has well and truly worn off.
Right now we should be skipping through meadows with lambs and baby bunnies, gathering daffodils as we pass. We should be getting overexcited about hanging our washing outside, or leaving the house without a coat, or planting a load of flowers and vegetables which will inevitably all die at the first sign of a heat wave. Really at least one of your friends should have organised an optimistic BBQ by now.
But alas, no, apparently we all fell through the back of a wardrobe when we weren’t paying attention and are stuck in fucking Narnia.
The biggest bore of the prolonged winter is the never-ending bouts of lurgy going around. Every trip on public transport is a stealth mission in phlegm avoidance; evenings are spent downing hot toddies rather than flaming zambucas, and we all have the complexion of Bella Swan with a hangover. Almost every person I know is suffering from some sort of affliction right now, be it cough, sniffle or pox.
The only advantage of this lack of health is a culinary gold ticket to eat whatever the hell you like. Of course, you can take the approach of snorting lines of Berocca and injecting orange juice into your eyeballs, but I view this as closing the stable door after the horse has legged it, somewhat. Instead I choose to eat what makes me feel good. I dose up on comfort rather than vitamins. Ice cream for sore throats, macaroni cheese post-noro, seven bars of Green and Blacks for anything vaguely resembling a menstrual cramp.
Tomato soup, I believe, is the epitome of ill food, and this is my version. Don’t get me wrong, at times of poorliness I’m all for the stuff in the can, but on one particular bout of near-death I was forced to create my own. It was either that, or leave the house to go and buy a tin, and the prospect of washing my hair and replacing my pyjamas with a snow suit was just too much to comprehend...

Tomato and basil soup
Serves 4
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tins chopped tomatoes
1 ½  pints vegetable stock
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Large handful of basil, stalks and all
Glug of oil
200ml single cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in the oil until softened, then add the garlic and fry for another minute. Throw in the tomatoes, stock, sugar, vinegar and chilli and bubble away for about 30 mins or so. Add basil and cream and blend. Taste, and add more seasoning etc if needs be. Serve and top with a swirl of cream or a handful of cheddar.  Another excellent accompaniment is the bread recipe from last month’s column...

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