Saturday, April 26, 2008

Forever Summer

Asking someone to choose their favourite herb is a bit like asking a mother who is her favourite child. You love them all equally but in different ways. Because I cannot imagine cooking without herbs, I have lots of both Western and Asian varieties growing in my garden or in pots. However, thyme flatly refuses to grow here, and a rosemary shrub brought back from Provence survived a few months until some nasty insect attacked it in my absence. Dill grows sulkily, refusing to develop a strong flavour and to stand up straight and strong.

However, all kinds of basil seem to love this climate; I have “Thai” horapa basil, lemon basil, Italian basil and another Italian-basil-on-steroids (a gift from an Italian chef who grows it in Brunei for one of his restaurants there) which has an incredibly intense flavour and aroma, and really big leaves.

Because it’s bright and sunny today (after a fierce storm, wind and flooding late yesterday), and because there are lots of tomatoes in my fridge begging to be eaten before we go away for three days tomorrow, I decided to make this excellent iced tomato soup as part of tonight’s dinner. It is from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. This dog-eared copy was bought in 1965, the year before Australia went decimal, and cost only 5/-. I reckon I’ve had a lot more than my 5 bob’s worth from it over the years.

good slurp of olive oil
750 g ripe tomatoes (good quality, not nasty supermarket ones), peeled and chopped
1 large clove garlic, smashed and chopped
fresh basil, chopped
pinch of sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
600 ml good chicken stock

Heat the oil in a pan, add the tomatoes, garlic and basil and cook gently, stirring from time to time, for just 5 minutes. Add the seasonings and stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer another 5 minutes only. Transfer to a bowl, cool, then refrigerate until really cold. Scatter with more fresh basil and a little black pepper when serving.

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