Recipe: Try this delicious bread and tomato soup

English tomatoes

English tomatoes - Credit: Archant

It doesn’t matter whether you’re treading the bare, parched hills of Andalucia or trying to escape a chilly summer deluge in London, soups can include almost any ingredient and easily be served hot or cold, says Frances Bissell

Even though it is supposed to be the height of summer now, I always feel as if I am tempting fate in suggesting cooling food for the dog days of August. But that’s what we food writers do, write about an idealised situation, so columns will be filled with ideas for a picnic, for chilli-hot food to cool you down, for large salads.

Well, you would not expect me to offer recipes for an afternoon of baking or a trio of hearty casseroles. On the other hand, by the time you read this, a bowl of thick soup and some hot toast dripping with butter might be the only thing to stand up to a chilly summer deluge.

In fact, soup can often be the answer to “what shall we eat today?” To think of soup as suitable only for warming winter meals would be to miss out on some wonderfully refreshing delicate summer dishes.

Think of a cool, silky vichyssoise, smooth with potato, and with a gentle hint of leek. Think of the same ingredients in a new guise, flavoured and lightly coloured with saffron. Imagine the bare hills and parched earth of an Andalucian summer, and then imagine a shady street in Cordoba, a dark doorway, a dim, cool interior, and a rough earthenware bowl, full of ice-cold piquant gazpacho.

While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of soup recipes in the international culinary repertoire, the imaginative cook can produce a range of individual and exciting soups from a vast array of ingredients.

One might almost say that there is no foodstuff which cannot be used in soup; fruit and vegetables certainly, fish, meat and poultry, of course, pasta, pulses, rice, cheese, even bread and eggs can be used in soups.

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As with most things, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. You cannot make good soup from poor ingredients. By poor, I do not mean cheap. I mean old, stale, spoilt.

Some of the best soups I have ever eaten have been made from the simplest of ingredients, fried garlic, day old bread, water or broth, perhaps a handful of herbs, and a fresh egg. Such are the soups of the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese sopa alentejana and the Spanish sopa de ajo. One of my favourite restaurants in Spain, the sadly now closed La Mesa Redonda in Jerez, used to have a fabulous bread and tomato soup on the menu. It is the perfect soup for a cool summer evening, when you want something warming but not rich.

Summer is also the right time to make it, when tomatoes are at their sweetest and ripest.

Another good source of ingredients for soups are the salad stalls in the farmers’ markets.

Lettuces and soft herbs such as basil or mint can be used to make a fine green soup, to serve hot or cold. I like soups with this versatility, for you never quite know if it is going to be warm enough to serve a chilled summer soup.

I must admit that as I was writing this column, I had been planning for the evening a silky, chilled sweetcorn and fennel soup but changed it at the last minute to a thick chowder-like soup, more suited to the weather.

One which I only serve in the hottest weather is a cucumber, prawn and buttermilk soup, a lovely pale green, with pink prawns floating on top, and a refreshing acidity from the buttermilk.

The cucumber I roughly chop and put in the blender with seasoning and buttermilk, and some chicken stock if I have it, otherwise just a little more flavouring, such as chopped dill.

Bread and tomato soup

Serves four

500g ripe tomatoes

One large green or red pepper

One small onion, peeled

One garlic clove, peeled

150 ml extra virgin olive oil

750 ml water

About 400g sourdough bread, crust discarded, broken into chunks

Thinly slice the vegetables, and cook them in the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan, over a gentle heat until the vegetables are tender. Add the water and the bread. Mix well, cover, and cook for five to 10 minutes until tomato and bread are amalgamated. Season with salt, and stir in some shredded mint leaves before serving. You can also divide the mixture between four ovenproof bowls, crack an egg into each, and finish in the oven.