One good thing I’ll say about the state of the world right now is that both Yellowjackets and Succession are back with new seasons and the specific effect these shows have on my serotonin levels is indubitably making up for me not receiving serotonin from any other sources. Both are tales of survival and its often gruesome ramifications except the former involves teen girls facing cannibalism in the Canadian wilderness and the latter concerns New York billionaires attending board meetings; both shows are weighing so overwhelmingly on my brain that while in the supermarket shopping for soup ingredients — and being inexplicably unable to locate a single mossy leaf of basil and so pivoting on the spot to flat-leaf parsley — I couldn’t help but congratulate myself for how well I would cope in both the wilderness and in the thrust and parry of the obtuse world of business with such a nimble demonstration of initiative and quick thinking.
(When it comes to such hypotheticals I generally don’t engage in the what-ifs, subscribing to the Kim Cattrall mantra of not wanting to be in a situation even for an hour, but while looking at a flimsy, paper-straw thin supermarket leek and pondering whether or not $6 is reasonable for its purchase, wondering if I will ever behold a single affordable vegetable again in my lifetime or if that will be relegated to the sphere of nostalgia like telethons and the TV test pattern on Sunday mornings, I mean, who needs to imagine threatening fictitious situations?)
I don’t fool myself that I’m even slightly equipped with the necessary girl-scout tendencies that might befit the survivors of Yellowjackets, but I am blessed with an ability to improvise or reverse-engineer a meal into existence based on whatever half-filled bags and scraps are in my kitchen; in the case of this tomato and bread soup, aka Pappa al Pomodoro, it was a can of tomatoes in the pantry and some ciabatta buns in the freezer and the notion that not too much would have to be done to turn them into a soup that’s not only serviceable but based on a culinary precedent (and delicious.)
This soup is an exercise in trusting the process: for the twenty minutes of simmering it appears to be thin and watery and entirely unpromising, but then you drop in the torn-up ciabatta which thirstily reduces and thickens the broth, and the honey which dovetails with the sweetness of the tomatoes, and suddenly — as if you turned up the sharpness and definition on a photo — it becomes a hearty, almost stew-like potage with a gentle depth of flavour from the soft allium presence of the leeks.
Because I am typically incapable of eating soup without some kind of mollifying add-on, I’ve made a pesto (although the name is, well, nominal, as it really bears no resemblance to that Genovese delicacy) out of fried carrots, nutty and rich, blended up with almonds and the aforementioned flat-leaf parsley that I heroically substituted for the basil I couldn’t find. I’ve long been a proponent of frying your carrots (eg, these noodles and this salad) and the salty, caramelised vegetal qualities of the pesto add a dash of intrigue and panache to the otherwise humble soup, though you could add a dollop of actual pesto, or make a stack of cheese toasted sandwiches for dipping into the soup’s red depths. It’s the perfect food for this turn into autumn we at last find ourselves in, but if it’s hotter weather where you are, you might consider this Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil instead; if this tomato soup is a soft blanket and a radiator heater, the bean soup is a cold damp cloth to the forehead.
Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto
A simple and hearty Tuscan-ish soup, thickened with torn ciabatta and topped with blitzed-up fried carrots, almonds, and parsley. The soup recipe is adapted just a little from the Pappa al Pomodoro in Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto family, the pesto is my own recipe.
Fried Carrot Pesto:
- 250g (about 2 medium) carrots
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2-3 extra tablespoons for blending
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds
- 15g Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- a hearty pinch of salt
Tomato and Bread Soup:
- 1 medium-sized leek, stem only
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 800ml water
- 2 stock cubes of your choice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 80g (about 1 large or 2 small buns) ciabatta
1: Slice your carrot into batons and heat the first two tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan. Fry the carrot sticks in the hot oil, letting them sit for a minute or two before turning. Once golden brown, remove the carrot sticks to the side to cool down and proceed with the soup.
2: Slice the stem of the leek into half moons and saute it over a low heat in the remaining oil in the same pan that you cooked the leeks in. Once the leeks have softened — which should only take about a minute — add the tablespoon of tomato paste and the two crushed garlic cloves and stir for another minute. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, and then fill up the empty tin twice with water from the tap to achieve your 800ml (or thereabouts) of water, and add this to the pan along with the two stock cubes, crumbled in. Bring this mixture to the boil then allow it to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, during which time it should reduce a little.
3: After the simmering is up, remove the pan from the heat. Tear the ciabatta into smallish chunks and add it to the soup along with the two tablespoons of honey, give it a stir, and let it sit for ten minutes while you get on with the pesto, by whizzing up the somewhat-cooled fried carrots, the 1/3 cup of slivered almonds, the 15g flat-leaf parsley, the teaspoon of lemon juice, the two to three tablespoons olive oil and the pinch of salt to form a chunky paste. Taste for seasoning (you can also add more olive oil or a splash of water to thin it out if you want.)
4: Bring the heat up again on the soup if it needs it, otherwise divide the soup between two bowls and spoon over the pesto.
Makes two hearty servings, or 3-4 dainty servings.
- If you don’t eat honey, replace it with about a tablespoon and a half of sugar or brown sugar; you can also replace the almonds with cashews or hazelnuts, honestly, I chose the almonds because they were on special.
- You can absolutely replace the parsley with basil, and I’d encourage you to do so, as it makes sense culinarily, I simply couldn’t find any at the supermarket.
- The pesto is best made in a food processor, if you only have a blender then you may need to add even more olive oil and a few tablespoons of water to get it moving and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Never Leave Me Alone by Nate Dogg, the hook is of course unreal, but its beauty would be nothing without Nate Dogg’s immediately recognisable throaty vocals, where he sounds like he’s somehow harmonising with himself at two slightly different low-vibrating pitches. A perfect song.
Andelusia by Savage Republic, I love a no-lyrics number, and this is just the sort of vigorously droning music that makes you want to run down the side of a highway in the rain.
People from the Broadway musical Funny Girl, as performed in 1992 by Laurie Beechman; I have to genuinely limit my listening to her because she makes me so emotional (like, no one needs to be crying while watching her in the incoherent Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat medley at the 1982 Tony Awards and yet! Here we find ourselves) so as you can imagine, when her crisp belt and sensitive interpretation skills are applied to this already stunning song, all bets are off.
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