I’m looking out of the window as I type this, and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that it’s definitely not summer any more. This will be this 2010’s final recipe for the contents of your greenhouse. This year hasn’t been fantastic for tomatoes, but the cucumbers have been glorious (full disclosure here – I didn’t grow any myself, but my parents have enough to club a small army to death with), and peppers are at their best now. It goes without saying that this recipe is totally dependent on the quality of your ingredients.
Most think of gazpacho as a cold tomato soup. Tomatoes do make up the dominant ingredient by weight, but a good gazpacho should take much of its flavour from the cucumber (surprisingly aromatic) and peppers. Get the finest, ripest vegetables you can find, and if at all possible, try to get your hands on one of those lovely, spurred, English cucumbers – they’ve a lot more flavour to them than one of the smooth-skinned supermarket variety. Use your best olive oil, and enjoy the last of the sunshine. If you’re preparing this as part of a special meal, you can jazz it up something spectacular by shredding some fresh, sweet white crab meat, and putting a couple of tablespoons of it in the bottom of each bowl before you pour the soup over.
Finally, a word of warning. Your guests might have a baked-in dislike of chilled soups. Check before you serve this up. I remember the look of utter misery on my Dad’s face when we visited a friend’s house once and were presented with a choice of Vichyssoise and gazpacho to open a meal with. Dad, you’re a heathen, but for you I’d warm this through on the hob.
To serve four as a starter, you’ll need:
1kg ripe tomatoes, as fresh as possible
4 banana shallots
3 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
1 large cucumber
2 slices stale white bread, soaked in water and squeezed
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
Peel the tomatoes by scoring them around the equator and dunking them in boiling water to loosen the skins. Cut them open and discard the seeds. Blacken the skin of the peppers under the grill, pop the steaming peppers in a plastic box with the lid on for a few minutes to loosen the skins, peel and seed. Peel the cucumber, chop the shallots into quarters and mince or otherwise squish the garlic.
Blitz the vegetables and bread to a smooth purée in batches with the other ingredients. Taste for seasoning; you may want to add a little more vinegar or paprika as well as salt. Chill thoroughly and serve cold, with a little more olive oil drizzled over.
Stupendous because, really, there is no other word for this stuff. It’ll take you the best part of a day to make, although there’s not much real work involved, just a bit of stirring every half hour or so – if you’re going to be around the house all day, just carry a timer with you set to go “bing” every half hour to remind you to go and stir the sauce. You’ll use up two kilos of those tomatoes you’ve got ripening away in the greenhouse, and you’ll finish with a sauce that tastes like pure condensed summer. It freezes well – I have a few boxes of this sauce in the freezer to be hauled out in the middle of winter, when tomatoes are indistinguishable from potatoes.
The idea here is to drive as much of the moisture as possible out of sweet, summery peppers and tomatoes, encouraging their natural sugars to caramelise. The tomatoes you choose should be the very best you can find. This recipe is fantastic for gardeners with a glut of tomatoes, but you can make it with good tomatoes from the market too. Just make sure you use the sort of tomatoes that you’d be happy to snack on raw; the sort where you suddenly discover you don’t have any left because they were so good you accidentally ate them all without noticing.
This sauce is beyond fabulous on its own, dressing some pasta – if you can find Giovanni Rana fresh pasta at your local supermarket or deli, the basil and spinach fettuccine is a great match, with its intense basil aroma. For plain pasta, throw a few basil leaves and maybe some oregano over when you serve. I also love it as a sauce for chicken breasts that have been butterflied, beaten flat, breaded and fried crisp (you don’t need a recipe for those – just put the butterflied breasts between two pieces of cling film; wallop the hell out them with a rolling pin; then flour, egg and crumb them before frying for five minutes on each side); it’s great mixed with some grilled vegetables or as a sauce for grilled, oily fish too. You can use it as a dip, in sandwiches, as an enriching ingredient for other sauces, as a base for soups – versatile, delicious, wonderful stuff.
To make about 12 servings (you’ll be freezing these in individual portions, and with something that takes so long to cook it seems a waste to make any less) you’ll need:
6 bell peppers (orange, red or yellow)
150ml olive oil
2 large onions
1 head garlic
Salt and pepper
Blitz the bell peppers with the onions in the food processor. You’re aiming for a rough, wet puree. Put the resulting glop in your biggest saucepan (preferably something with a heavy base that will disperse the heat evenly – I have a giant le Creuset casserole which is perfect for this sort of thing) with the butter and cook over a medium flame without a lid, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Eventually, the peppers will start darkening in colour, most of the liquid will have been cooked off, and the whole arrangement will have a jammy texture. It may take more than an hour to get to this stage, depending on the water content of your peppers and the diameter of your pan.
Puree the tomatoes with the peeled garlic. Add them to the jammy contents of the saucepan with the olive oil and stir well to make sure everything is combined. Now go and busy yourself doing whatever it is you do when you’re not cooking, being sure to return to the pan every half hour to stir it, scraping the bottom and moving the sauce around the pan. After a few hours, as the sauce thickens, start returning to the pan every 15 or 20 minutes if you feel it is in danger of sticking when left for half an hour.
Again, timing here varies on your tomatoes and your pan, but around six hours (maybe more) after you first put the tomatoes on the hob, the contents of the pan will have reduced by more than half. The sauce will be fabulously gloppy when stirred, and will be darkening and beginning to give up its oil. No tomato juice will rush to the surface when you press down on the sauce with a wooden spoon. Taste the sauce, which should look a bit like rusty sun-dried tomato paste, try not to jump too high for joy at the intense, umami flavour, and season.
I freeze this sauce in 250g bags – enough to serve two generously. Your yield should be about six bags, give or take. Unfrozen, the sauce will keep in the fridge for about a week.
I found myself invited to two very different terraces on the Thames Embankment yesterday. The Royal Horseguards Hotel, near Hungerford Bridge, is offering a Wimbledon-themed afternoon tea for the whole of this year’s Wimbledon fortnight – just the ticket for those of us who don’t like tennis, but who do like patisseries. And just off Waterloo bridge, a few hundred yards upstream, the terrace at Somerset House has been transformed for the summer into an open-air restaurant fronted by Tom Aikens, with a spectacular bar and summer-casual menu.
The Royal Horseguards is one of those super-swanky, highly polished, five-star hotels, all harpists in the lobby and marble floors. Doormen and concierges line the halls, and a customer visiting for tea is treated with as much care as one staying in one of the most expensive suites. We were there to visit the very pretty terrace café, shaded by a line of plane trees along Victoria Embankment.
The Wimbledon tea is only running for a couple of weeks, so you’ll have to get in there quickly – and then you can sit back and be spoiled for an hour or so while you work your way through a very generous and gorgeously presented high tea. Proceedings open with a strawberry and grenadine Bellini, to glug your way through while you listen to Big Ben clanging away in the background before a big silver pot of tea arrives.
We were served (underarm) a long glass tray packed with pretty little patisseries, two glasses of a strawberry and Pimms consommé and a bucket of white chocolate truffles masquerading as tiny tennis balls – totally charming, tooth-hurtingly rich, and utterly addictive. Joanne Todd, the hotel’s new pastry chef, is behind this very frivolous and very romantic (seriously – take someone you want to impress, because those tennis balls alone will work wonders) outing; she’s only been at the hotel for a couple of weeks, and if this tea is anything to go by, there will be other good things in the Terrace Café’s future. The little cupcake with the logo was delicately scented with elderflower; that’s a perfectly squishy strawberry macaroon with a perfumed rose ganache hiding behind it, and a strawberry vacherin. The little truffles come with three fillings: champagne, strawberry and a fresh, creamy mint that I could have kept eating all afternoon.
It’s just as well I didn’t, because a tray of scones came out next, two plain and two with fruit and spices – along with a ball of clotted cream so enormous you could have played tennis with it. The Terrace Café runs non-Wimbledon afternoon tea for the rest of the year, from £28 for the Champagne tea (finger sandwiches, pastries, a cream tea and all that good stuff) down to £13.50 for the Westminster Tea, a straightforward cream tea. It’s well worth a visit if you’re having a day out. I spotted one of the new intake of MPs and an actress I shall not name because she was obviously trying to have a private moment (not with the MP) while I was scarfing my scones. If you don’t have a date to take, head on over with your Mum to impress her with the crowd you mingle with.
I barely had time to get started on digesting tea before heading over to Somerset House to meet Tom Aikens and sit down for a meal at Tom’s Terrace, a pop-up restaurant overlooking the river. Tom’s Terrace opened at the end of April and will only operate for 22 weeks over the summer, closing in September – it’s packed out every evening, so you’ll need to book ahead. I hate to get all Enid Blyton, but food really does taste better outdoors, and Tom’s Terrace has been designed to make the most of the unpredictable English summer, with architectural covers over the tables, sculptural heaters (not used on the night I visited, when the weather was positively balmy) and coloured lights punctuating the restaurant.
The menu is short, outdoorsy, unpretentious and simple, full of good ingredients prepared well. There are beautifully selected charcuteries; a whole clutch of summery salads; grilled chicken; a burger cooked to a perfect medium-rare. (You can see the whole menu on the restaurant’s web site.) There are fat, truffle/parmesan chips, parboiled then fried twice to a shattering crisp outside, with fluffy middles. The coronation crab salad pictured here was sweet, fresh, and perfectly balanced – a dense, marie-rose-type sauce lifted with a very subtle dose of curry spicing, diced mango and toasted almonds had me swiping the inside of the empty glass bowl with my fingertips and sucking them. To top everything off, you’ll find a really interesting range of cocktails (and a short but well thought out wine list), which you can enjoy either at the table or at the bar area at the other end of the restaurant. It’s refreshing to find a bar that pays as much attention to non-alcoholic cocktails as it does to the boozy ones; ultimately, I couldn’t work out whether I enjoyed Tom’s Tequila or the virgin blueberry cocktail, made with floral syrups and fresh juices, more.
This is great summer’s evening stuff, pre- or post-theatre, or for sharing with friends. The staff are great – our table found itself sparking off competition between two bartenders over who could produce the best drink, and the service staff will bend over backwards to explain the menu and make suggestions if you get stuck. I could have stayed for hours longer, bibbing blueberries and ordering more mango rice pudding; I left at 10.30 to get my train with the greatest reluctance.
Many thanks to both restaurants for the invitations, and here’s to a great summer.