Thursday, January 10, 2008

10.10.08: Tomato & Crunchy Celery + Pasta Night

Hard though it may be to believe, over the past three months, we've somehow not got around to doing a creamy tomato soup à la façon de Heinz. Until today, when Signor Atif - who didn't grow up in Britain and isn't intimidated by the cultural status of Heinz 57 Varieties - produced a soup so stupendous that someone wrote in the log bok, excitedly, 'Best soup every BINGO!'

Carlo wasn't about to start with fresh tomatoes, but he refuses to use purée, which he reckons has a tinny, industrial flavour, and insists upon the best quality Napolitana brand tins of chopped tomatoes (70% flesh!) He made the soup by slowly sweating a mirepoix of onion, celery and carrots in plenty of oil, adding rosemary, mixed herbs, coriander (all dried) and two mild green fresh chillies.
I reckon he probably sneaked a bit of garlic in there, too, but maybe that goes without saying?

The key to incorporating the tomatoes, apparently, is to do it ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. Add a can of tomatoes and allow it to cook down thoroughly, then add another can every five minutes. Since this soup used eight cans, this process took forty minutes, but the results were more than worthwhile. Carlo thickened the soup with pureed chickpeas.

Rewind: before you do anything else in this recipe, you've got to soak half a kilo of organic chick peas! They've got to be organic, see, because organic chick peas are the sweetest. If, for some reason, you don't soak your dried chick peas overnight, you can take a shortcut by soaking them for just an hour with a teaspoon full of bicarbonate in the water. Change the water before boiling them, or it's liable to start foaming;-)

Carlo finished his soup with 100g creamed coconut dissolved in hot water and served it with crunch diced celery, which was a really neat final flourish, I thought. And the number of potions served, inevitably, was 23.

In the evening, Carlo stayed on for Pasta Night, which I reckon will become an established fixture on Thursday nights as we move into the New Year. So far, it's not been easy to establish a clientele because it's been hard to get the word out and attract peoples' attention in the pre-Xmas period. Anyway, about 15 people did get the message and enjoyed one of Sgnr. Atif's idiosyncratic pasta dishes: penne with tofu, sweetcorn and green peas in a wonderful, rich and spicy coriander sauce. Seriously, if you live on the Pullens and you're at home next Thursday, don't bother cooking for yourself but come and join us @ the Centre.

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