When we visited Granada in Andalucia in Spain a few months ago, I learned a few things. One was that Spanish food is great. Another was that cured ham like jamón serrano goes incredibly well with roasted almonds. The other one that’s relevant is that there’s more than one Spanish cold soup in the ol’ repertoire. Everyone’s heard of gazpacho, but what about its inexplicably lesser publicised cousin salmorejo? Salmorejo is made up mainly of 3 things. Tomatoes, garlic, and bread. It’s pretty much liquid bruschetta. When we had it in Spain it was served as an accompaniment to the amazing jamón Iberico we’d ordered (if you’re the kind of person to keep a bucket list, that should be on it.). It was delicious, really fresh and a little bit zingy from the raw garlic. It got me thinking, it’d make a fantastic base to a hot soup, and be really substantial at the same time, so this week while the Parisian summer has demonstrated an absolutely flawless impression of a Perth winter, I thought it time to crack out something wintery. Into the lab.
I wanted to make a soup that was solid enough to serve by itself as a main meal, but retained that freshness. I also wanted to back some of that raw garlic off – half a cup as a dipping sauce was amazing, a whole bowl would be terrifying. I also wanted to play with a few of those nice simple garnishes, and the best part is they took almost no effort to prepare. In the picture I’ve got pan-roasted almonds, crisped jamón serrano, and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, so they’re the no-brainers I’ll walk you through.
This’ll bowl up for about 4 people.
For the soup:
- A small onion, very finely chopped.
- A red capsicum, also very finely chopped.
- 3 or 4 big bastard tomatoes, chopped into quarters, skins off & seeds out. (I got the skins off after I chopped them and put them in the pot. There was some swearing & running to the cold water involved, but it got the job done.)
- A lot of garlic. Most of a smallish bulb.
- A lump of day-old bread. The less processed the better. I used the end of an old baguette de tradition but something like a pain de campagne, a soft ciabatta or pane di casa would work fine.
- A couple of small-medium potatoes. (These are optional. I added them to make the soup more substantial, but you could easily add a little more bread and cook it for a little bit longer to thicken it more.)
- 4 skinless chicken thighs – peppered, grilled, & torn to shreds. Cook with the pan crazy hot, it makes it more interesting later.
- Roughly a pint of chicken stock.
- Dried oregano.
- Olive oil.
- One big green chilli, very finely chopped. (Won’t really add much heat, but it’ll give you the spicy flavour without the burn if that makes sense.)
- Small red chillies, chopped just as finely. (Add these to taste. Know your enemy, I added one and a big spoonful of harissa to mine. Worked a treat.)
For the garnishes:
- A fistful of cherry tomatoes.
- Blanched, roasted almonds, not in their shells.
- Jamón serrano or prosciutto.
- Some of that garlic from the soup list.
- Olive oil.
- Dried oregano.
You’ve got a lot of chopping to do, so the best place to start here is getting those garnish tomatoes roasting, and those potatoes boiling. Pot of hot salted water on top, oven sitting on 100º (you want to roast ’em slow) underneath. Drop the potatoes straight in, skins on, and let them boil away. For the tomatoes, find the tightest fitting oven-safe open dish you can so they’ll cover the bottom without rolling around. Throw in a glug of olive oil & a shake of oregano, and move them around for coverage. Jam a couple of smashed cloves of garlic in any gaps, then put the dish in the oven and forget about it.
With that stuff under way, get chopping. You can start the onion & about 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic frying in your soup pot with a slug of oil and a pinch of salt while you’re still chopping those peppers. Once they’ve softened just a little, add your red capsicum & green chilli. While that’s softening up, quarter, core and deseed those big bastard tomatoes. They can go in once that onion & pepper base is looking cooked. They’ve probably got a real name, I just don’t care to learn it. Add some oregano at this point as well.
As for tomato skin removal, you’ve got 2 options. You can either be a dumbass daredevil like me, or you can be smart about it. I fished each piece of tomato out of the soup pot once it’d been in there for a couple of minutes, pulled the skin off, then put it back in. A smart cook would slice a little cross in the bottom of each tomato, throw them in with the potatoes for under a minute, then peel the skins off. Do a similar peel on the potatoes, and chop them into segments as well.
Now, it’s all looking a bit chunky, and not very soupy. It needs liquid, right? Add about half your stock, tear up your bread & throw that in as well, and drop in your potatoes if you’re using them.
It’s still chunky. This is where the recipe gets a bit “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure”. If you have a blender of some kind, now is the time. If you don’t, now is still the time, only you hit it with a potato masher. Brutalise it.
Back in the pot, add the rest of the stock, and taste it for spiciness. Add your chicken (grilled & torn up, remember) and bring it to the boil. Once you’ve got a nice roll going, back the heat off to a simmer, and start it reducing. At this time, you’ll need to add more garlic, but your technique is going to be completely different, and incredibly useful. Peel another 3 or 4 cloves, and drop them straight in the soup for a few minutes to soften & gently cook it. Fish them all out, mash them with a fork, then stir the whole lot through.
Give it a couple more checks & adjustments for chilli heat, but really you’re just biding your time until it’s thick enough to serve.
If you’re not bothering with garnishes, then off you go on your merry way to enjoy soup.
If you’re being a zero-effort fancy bastard about this, do read on. Your tomatoes should be ready about the same time as the soup if you put them in at 100º first. All you have to do is not burn yourself or the table when you get them out of the oven to serve up.
The jamón & almonds are amazingly easy. Put a cold dry pan on the stove, and lay your jamón in it before you turn on a medium heat. The reason you use a cold pan is that as the temperature rises gradually, the meat loses fat slowly, greasing the pan at the same time. Turn it a few times, but it shouldn’t be a violent cook.
Throw some almonds in the pan (a small handful) once it’s hot, and keep them moving. They’re ready when the jamón is crispy enough to snap, and the almonds are looking toasty.
Serve it up in big bowls, with the garnishes spread out on the table to grab.