Just last week, while I was in the middle of finishing up the Baked Apple post, I had that famous Art Print of Woodstock and Snoopy jumping into a large pile of dry leaves labelled “We Love the Simple Things in Life” flash through my head. And of course my mind immediately bolted over to Madeira, the islands heart and way of life so perfectly mirrored in its deliciously simple yet vibrant and colorful cuisine.
One of the “Simple Things” to be enjoyed in various versions all across the island is a Tomato and Onion soup. Whether you’ll be looking at some garlic bread croutons, octopus ringlets, potatoes or cheese cubes topping off your bowlful of this signature dish depends on the region you’re currently visiting – and, of course, the regions signature delicacy. With this particular dish I’d wager someone could munch through at least a month’s lunches in a row without getting bored if that someone would set their mind to it… One of the best – and the most fitting for a Comfort-Dinner – Tomato and Onion Soups Hubby and I indulged in during our trips to Madeira was an off-the-official-menu special at the Mini Market Maré Bistro in Canico de Baixo, just two corners and a seaside promenade away from our Hotel. Silky smooth and chunky, sweet and spicy, light and filling, full-force tomato’y and succulent onion’y, all at the same time, crowned with a perfectly poached egg… absolutely fantastic. It took me a while to match my own soup related dreamy-holiday-memory-enhanced expectations, but I’m very happy to announce: This is it! The experiments have come to an end! This is my final version of Madeira’s signature Tomato & Onion soup! Grab your spoons! Get ready! Dig in~! Oh and… Did I mention this is a supremely healthy and easy to whip up quick fix despite a seemingly long list? Here’s what you need for 4 servings~
The Madeiran Tomato & Onion Soup
3 large Brown Onions, 2 of them finely diced (these will “melt” into the soup) and 1 sliced into 4-5mm thin half-moons (these will add a bit of a bite) – If you’re in the mood, ask your greens grocer or farmer’s market vendor for the sweetest variety of onions they have
2 Carrots, topped, tailed, peeled and sliced into 4-5mm disks
4 Fingerling Potatoes, cooked to a point just slightly under yumtastic readyness
1 Tbsp Butter
5 large Heirloom Tomatoes – you want the big, firm’ish ones with few (watery) seeds and a lot of flavor.
Alt 1: 6-8 San Marzano Plum Tomatoes – if you’re going with these, make sure they’re ripe and try to get them on the vine.
Alt 2: 800g Tinned San Marzano Tomatoes, preserved in juice – this is the shortcut, just pop the lot in
8-12 Cherry Tomatoes on the vine, picked of the vine and halved – you’ll need the vine, though, so don’t toss it just yet
75g Concentrated Tomato Purée
1-2 Tsp of (preferably Madeiran) Honey – depending on the acidity of your tomatoes you might need a bit more, so keep the jar close~
150-200ml Vegetable or Chicken/Beef Stock – start with 140-150 and use the rest only if needed for consistency
3 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
½ Bunch of Flatleaf Parsley – separate leaves and stems, you’ll need both. Finely chop the leaves.
1 Bay Leaf
1 Heaped Tsp of Dried Thyme Leaves
1 Pinch-1 Tsp of Dried Garden Savory – I usually go with a Tsp matching the Thyme
Opt: 1 generous Pinch of Chilli flakes – not very Madeiran, but well… consider who wrote this recipe~ use Portugese Piri-Piri Chillies if you can
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Strips of Orange Peel – rub the warm bowls with it before ladling in the soup for kicks
1) Tie the parsley stems, bay leaf and tomato vines together with a piece of butcher’s string.
2) Add the butter to a large pot sitting on medium-high heat and, once the knob has melted, add the carrots.
3) Allow them to sweat and soften for about 5 mins. Stir and flip them from time to time to keep them from sticking to the pot.
4) Add the onions, honey, a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, the dried herbs and the garlic.
5) Sauté the lot for about 10mins before adding the bay leaf, the herb/vine bundle and tomato paste.
6) Give everything a good stir until the tomato paste turned everything bright red, then deglaze the pot with the stock and add the “large” tomatoes – the cherry tomatoes will have their stage time later on.
7) Make sure there’s nothing sticking to the bottom of your pot, then close the lid and allow the veggies to bubble away for 15-20 mins.
8) Pick up a pair of kitchen tongs and hunt down the herb bundle – discard it once you’ve found it.
9) Ladle 4 very generous tbsp of veggies out of the pot and set them aside for the time being – that is, if you like your soup to have a bit of a bite to it. If you don’t, or if you’re having a lazy day, skip this and whizz up the whole lot instead.
10) Have a first taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, stir in the olive oil and transfer everything into the jug of your blender.
11) Give the chunky lot 2-3 mins to settle and steam off before closing the lid and whizzing it until the veggies come together in a silky smooth soup.
12) Move the soup back into the pot, set the pot back on medium heat, fold in the cherry tomato halves and allow them to take on some temperature for 5 mins – if you’re going with the poached eggs on top, this is the perfect time to get a pot of water going.
13) Go through another round of Taste-and-Adjust and have an eye on the consistency this time – stir in some more stock at this point of the soup turns out to be too thick for your liking – remember to adjust the seasoning once more after adding liquids.
14) Slice the potatoes into nice and spoonable bites or disks, add them to the soup and finish them off in the warm liquid – 7-10 mins or however long it takes to poach a couple of eggs will do just fine.
15) Once the potatoes are in, the water in your “Egg Pot” should be about ready, so here we go:
The Poached Eggs
If you’ve never (successfully) poached an egg before, I recommend checking out my Poached-Egg 101 hidden away in my Fire Flank Steaks with Artichokes, Chimichurri and Poached Eggs Recipe over here~ For now, here’s the long story short:
4 L Organic Eggs, the freshest eggs you can get
2 Tsp Salt
2-3 Drops of White Wine Vinegar
1) Fill a small’ish pot with enough water to reach about 1/3 up its sides – about 15-20cm should give the eggs enough space to float – and set it on to medium heat.
2) Sprinkle in the salt and give it a good stir to dissolve it.
3) Carefully crack the eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins.
4) Just in case you see a bit of runny, watery liquid rimming the eggwhite, gently slide the egg in question onto a slotted spoon to drain off the excess water.
5) Once the water reaches 80°C – roundabout the small-bubble-stage – add the vinegar to the water.
6) Pick up a spoon and give the water a good stir, sending it into a whirlpool, hover the bowl holding the first egg closely above the center of the eddy and gently let the egg slide into the water.
7) The currents will tug the eggwhite around the yolk as they set – gently nudge the strays into place with a spoon~
8) As the eddy slows down, slide a slotted spoon into the pot, beneath the egg, to prevent it from getting into contact with the direct heat at the bottom of the pot.
9) All in all, poach the egg for 4 mins, then lift it out of the water with the help of the conveniently placed slotted spoon.
10) Give it a very gentle shake before patting the bottom of the spoon with a paper towel to remove the excess water. Place it in a wide warmed-up bowl for the time being and sprinkle it with a crack of pepper and a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl with a plate or a sheet of aluminum foil, then…
11) …Rinse and repeat with the remaining eggs – if this isn’t your first rodeo with poached eggs, you might be able to go with 2 at a time~
Assembling the Dish
1) Distribute the veggie chunks you’ve removed earlier into warmed, orange-peel-rubbed soup bowls. (just in a side-note, this works extraordinarily well with a clove of garlic too~)
2) Ladle the hot soup on top of the veggie-piles.
3) Dust the surface with a couple of chili flakes and the finely chopped parsley leaves.
4) Crown each serving with an egg and…
…Enjoy the Simple Things In Life!
~ Snoopy and Woodstock