Sweet Pepper & Tomato Soup with Ciabatta Croutons and Basil Oil

As the cold weather creeps in and the nights grow ever longer, our appetites begin to change as our bodies yearn for that long-lost instinct of hibernation. We crave warmer, more substantial food to sustain us through the late autumn and winter. We want that sensation of heat and comfort that grows with every mouthful, that touches us deep inside as we indulge in our own modern-day version of hibernation – snuggling on the sofa with Netflix. Soup, in my view, satisfies that craving on a deep level. It is the very essence of comfort food: warm and satisfying, easy to eat. Indulgent yet simplistic. Soup gratifies the here and now, the ID, but it also touches our childhood nostalgia. It reminds us of being comforted as children with cans of Heinz tomato, heated with love and served to us when the concept of making our own food was beyond us.
Now, unless we open a can, we do have to make our own soup, so we want it to be easy, and we don’t want it to take too much of our time. Remember, the ID is calling.
This sweet pepper and tomato soup is blended at the end. For this I use a hand blender so that I can put it straight into the saucepan, removing the need to wash a blender jug, something we all hate doing. I’ve added croutons and basil oil because, to me, they add a whole other dimension to the dish. You can, however, do without them and just make the soup to have with your favourite crusty bread. The soup itself is gluten-free, so all you need to do is change the bread to satisfy your dietary requirements.


Prep Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 25 minutes.

Serves 4

Gluten Free.

Ingredients:
For the Soup:
1 small onion, diced
2 bell peppers, orange, red or yellow, deseeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp tomato puree
1 can chopped tomatoes
3 cans cold water
3 veg stock cubes (vegan and gluten free)
100ml vegan cream
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Croutons:
1 large or 2 small ciabatta rolls
Pinch sea salt
½ tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp olive oil

For the Basil Oil:
100ml olive oil
Large handful basil leaves
1 small garlic clove
Pinch of salt
Ground black pepper.


Method:

First heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions and peppers together for 4-5 minutes, until they become slightly soft and the onions translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, stirring continuously. Add the tomato puree, canned tomatoes, water and veg stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
While this is cooking make your croutons. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F. Cut your ciabatta bread into 1 ½ cm cubes and place in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and oregano and toss the bread pieces to cover them. Then add the olive oil and mix in well with your hands to fully cover with the oil and seasoning. Place on a baking tray and cook on the top shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, or until brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.
Now make your basil oil by adding all the ingredients to a small blender and whizzing for a few seconds until you have a thick, green oil. You will need to stir it again before drizzling it on the soup.
Once the soup is cooked, use a hand blender to blend in the pan to a smooth consistency. If you are using a jug blender you will need to let the soup cool first. Once this is done, stir in the cream and bring back up to serving temperature and adjust seasoning as required. Do not continue to boil the soup with the cream in as it will separate.
Serve the soup into bowls and top with the croutons, then drizzle the basil oil around the edge.


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