Finally, we again find ourselves in a country we have actually visited. We spent a rainy weekend in Rome in February 2014 and of course visited Vatican City while we were there. Vatican City (or, to use its full name, Vatican City State) lies within Rome’s borders and is the smallest state in the world by both area (110 acres) and population (1000). Other than being the home of the Pope, it is most well-known for its extensive museum (including the Sistine Chapel) and St Peter’s Basilica, both of which we visited.
However, whilst our trip to Rome was largely centred around food (as all of our holidays are), this didn’t apply to our time in Vatican City, in which there is apparently only one restaurant. The tiny population and lack of eateries perhaps inevitably leads to a little problem: no national dish. No traditional food of any kind, in fact. We could have made any number of Italian recipes, but that didn’t feel quite right, and anyway, we’ve already done that.
Fortunately for us, a cookbook was published in 2014: Buon Appetito, Swiss Guard. According to The Telegraph, the book ‘reveals the particular tastes of Pope Francis and his two predecessors’. Also fortunately for us, The Telegraph published a selection of recipes from the book, and in the absence of an actual national dish from Vatican City, we decided that Florentine Tomato Soup was a worthy substitute.
Florentine tomato soup
For the soup:
1 onion, finely chopped
500g cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
30ml olive oil
50ml balsamic vinegar (this seemed like a lot, so we used less – about half, in fact – and it seemed to work)
250ml vegetable stock
350ml tomato juice
2 tsp basil oil
2 tsp raw cane sugar
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil, to garnish
For the croutons:
4 slices of toast (we used ciabatta), crusts removed and cut into small cubes (toast, not bread – this is important)
1 tsp rosemary, chopped finely
1. Sauté the onion and the tomatoes in the olive oil.
2. Sprinkle on the sugar and let it caramelise, then deglaze with the balsamic.
3. Pour in the tomato juice and stock and simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes.
4. Puree with a stick blender and, if desired, pass through a fine sieve (see below).
5. Season with the salt, pepper and basil oil (we didn’t have any basil oil so omitted it).
6. For the croutons, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the toast cubes until golden. Season with salt and rosemary.
7. Serve garnished with the fresh basil and croutons.
(The lack of process photos in this post is what happens when one’s husband is left in charge of the documenting…)
A well-made, fresh tomato soup is a perfect example of how wonderful simple food can be. This soup came very close to meeting that description, but didn’t quite get there. The first issue was the instruction to pass the pureed soup through a fine sieve (step 4 above). We tried this, but the fineness of the sieve meant that we were losing a lot of the substance of the soup, leaving us with little more than a watery broth, so we mixed it all back together. This of course meant that we ended up with some texture from the tomato seeds, which Miranda didn’t mind, but Ash found unpleasant and a bit too acidic.
The other odd part about this dish was the butter used for frying the croutons. As someone who doesn’t really like butter, Miranda is fully prepared to accept that this might just be a personal taste thing, but given how beautifully olive oil pairs with tomatoes, it seems like it would have made more sense to use that rather than butter, which added a richness that clashed with the freshness of the tomatoes.
All of that said, this soup was nonetheless an enjoyable meal, and one that was light and hearty in equal measure. Therefore, if you’re looking for some respite from Christmas food, and you can get some decent tomatoes, it’s worth a try!