Spring. Blooming flowers, lambs, ducklings, the first (decent) strawberries. Happy days. But not entirely. It’s also that awkward in-between period when the weather doesn’t know what to do with itself, jumping from rain to bright skies and sunshine in moments. This year the change was so rapid that we went from relying on the heaters one day to contemplating dragging out the air conditioner the next. This is my first full year in Sydney, so I’m not expert on the subject, however I’m pretty sure that 29C on the last day of Winter (and the week of high 20’s that followed) is decidedly unusual. The change felt quite final when I ventured out for my early morning run on Tuesday and no longer felt the cold bite of air on my face. Instead I was confronted by a warm wind. Sad times, I’m telling you, sad times.
There’s no question that it’s a tantalising season – conjuring thoughts of languid days at the beach. It’s also bittersweet – no more excuses for hours spent curled up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and good book. Am I the only that feels confused with the onset of spring? In the past week I’ve spent hours excitedly trawling the net for summer dresses and bikinis (it’s a tactic designed to prevent me spending money as I’m less tempted to actually buy anything). At the same time, I’ve also come to the depressing realisation that it’s now far too late to try making that Autumn Vegetable Stew recipe I bookmarked way back in April. Behind the times? Just a bit.
This soup encapsulates all of those turbulent feelings. It’s cheesy, garlicky, bready base is reminiscent of the hearty winter warmers of past months. Whilst the rosy red, ripe tomatoes with their indescribably intense aroma hint at the beautiful produce about to hit the markets. The two contrasts meld together effortlessly. They make all the confusion surrounding the first weeks of spring seem natural – it’s simply a transitional period. Don’t fret about what has or hasn’t been and what’s yet to come, just appreciate the bowl of soup in front of you. Inhale that wonderful tomato smell….ok enough of the namby pamby talk.
Aquacotta essentially means ‘boiled water’ and thus relies on a few good quality ingredients for flavour. If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, then be sure to purchase some super ripe ones, still on the vine. They’re more expensive, but well worth the investment. You’ll also want an excellent extra-virgin olive oil. Anything else and the flavour won’t shine through. Don’t skimp and use ordinary sandwich bread. Make the effort to purchase a sturdy sourdough, pane di casa or something similar. As Mathew Evans says in The Weekend Cook “if you don’t have these, and some decent cheese, cook something else”. Take his advice.
A poached egg in soup doesn’t really compute, but the outcome is surprisingly good. Evan’s recipe involves pouring beaten egg over the bread and relying on the hot soup to cook it. I’ve no idea what went wrong, but despite quickly bringing the soup back to the boil before ladling it over the bread, we had strands of uncooked egg floating in the soup. Not very pleasant. I was so pleased with the other components of the recipe that I felt it deserved a second shot. And thankfully was rewarded with a far more pleasing bowl of soup – simple, satisfying and more importantly no strands of slimy raw egg!
Next time early spring’s giving you the willy nillies, give this soup a try!
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, peeled & finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
400g (roughly 4 tomatoes), chopped into rough 1.5cm dice
1 litre boiling water
Plenty sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs rosemary (or try fresh oregano or torn basil leaves)
4 thick slices bread – sourdough or pane di casa
1 large clove garlic, peeled
40g parmesan, finely grated
Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onions for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Stir through the tomato paste and cook for a minute to caramelise.
Tip in the chopped tomatoes, water, rosemary sprigs and season well with salt and pepper (I added about ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper at this point). Bring back to the boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile poach the eggs to your liking (runny or firm yolks will both work fine).
While the eggs are poaching, toast the bread until dark brown, but not yet burnt, Rub each side of bread with the raw garlic clove and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Place a slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl, sprinkle with parmesan (10g per person) and give a good grind of salt and pepper. Ladle over the soup and top with a poached egg.
Serve immediately, with extra bread for dipping if you like.
Source: Adapted from Mathew Evans: The Weekend Cook.