Recipe, photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.
I was rather excited when two weeks ago I received an email from Jamie Oliver’s Australian P.R. company asking if I’d like to be part of Jamie’s official Food Blogger Soup Challenge to coincide with his international Food Revolution Day campaign. The brief was to create a soup recipe that would get readers excited about cooking for themselves and therefore further spreading the word. Naturally I agreed to the request, I am after all a firm believer that everyone can learn to cook beautiful food.
If you haven’t heard about it, Food Revolution Day this Friday May 17 aims to raise awareness for Jamie’s Foundations. Cooking, an essential life skill which used be passed down from generation to generation is in danger of becoming a lost art despite the proliferation of food blogs and cooking shows. In our present day this tradition has been overlooked by many who now lack even the most basic skills, turning instead to processed and take away meals for the sake of convenience. The ability to prepare food and follow a recipe can make a huge impact on people’s food choices and ultimately their health (as it did for me). Jamie’s Ministry of Food aims to empower people with the knowledge and confidence to cook from fresh ingredients, to make better choices about how they nourish themselves and their families.
(Pic: Jamie Oliver. “Knowing what we eat, where food comes from and how it affects our bodies has never been more important. Food Revolution Day is all about people power. We want as many people as possible to get involved and show others how important cooking skills and food knowledge are”.)
Jamie Oliver’s passion for good food and the relentless desire to spread the word through the Ministry of Food makes him the perfect ambassador for the mission. He was undoubtedly the first celebrity chef to inspire me to cook for myself and I found (and still find) his enthusiasm infectious. (His book The Naked Chef came out in 2000, the very same year I became interested in cooking.) I quickly cooked my way through most of it as well as the The Return Of The Naked Chef in 2001. Never before had I cooked curry from scratch or baked a whole fish and I was really eager to do so because Jamie made it fun. (Pete’s Lamb Curry from The Return Of The Naked Chef was the first curry I ever made and if you haven’t tried it you simply must, it’s a keeper.) A welcome bonus was that I could also find most of the ingredients at my local supermarket (thankfully, Jamie doesn’t expect an amateur cook to go on a mad search for sriracha or fiddlehead ferns at their local Woolies).
In addition to the email from the P.R. agency I was very lucky to receive a lovely box of fresh produce from Aussie Farmers Direct from which I wrote this soup recipe. I paired thinly shaved fennel with tomatoes, chickpeas and basil with warming cumin and paprika to create this flavoursome and filling soup which is easy to prepare and tastes delicious. Fennel is a vegetable rarely explored by the amateur cook, and I encourage you to if you haven’t already. It’s beautiful in salads, roasted with butter and divine in this soup. The subtle anise flavour of the fennel matches that in the basil and the two sing in unison against the richness of the tomatoes.
The beautiful thing about this soup is that you don’t need meat. Just a big deep bowl, a spoon and some crusty bread. I’ll be filling up a Thermos to take to the Love Real Food Picnic on Saturday the 18th at Sydney’s Centennial Park. I’ll be joining all the other picnickers with their home made food who too will be spreading Jamie Oliver’s word and joining in the fun. Hope to see you there, so let’s get cooking and vive la revolution!
Spicy Tomato Soup with Fennel, Basil and Chickpeas.
Serves 4-6. Prep 20 minutes, cooking time 45 minutes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 large head fennel or two small-medium ones, sliced very finely (a food mandolin works best for this), stalks and fronds removed
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin chickpeas (400gm/14oz) or 1/2 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked until tender
1 tin Italian diced tomatoes (400gm/14oz)
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped finely and packed firmly
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1-1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1. Place a heavy based pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and fry the onion until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fennel and cook for approximately 20 minutes. The fennel will become soft and reduce significantly in size.
2. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir through and then add the stock, half the basil, the chickpeas, tomato paste, sweet paprika, thyme, cumin, chilli or cayenne pepper and salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
3. Check the seasoning and add the maple syrup, stir through. You want to add just a little sweetness to balance out the acidity. If you prefer a thicker soup you can add a little more tomato paste otherwise add the other half of the basil, stir through and serve. (The flavours in this soup get even better the next day and the soup will thicken as the vegetables absorb more moisture.)
This shoot was fun because the food was so vibrant. The gorgeous red enamelled cast iron pot is a vintage Copco piece and was salvaged out of a local council hard rubbish clean up. The stoneware bowls are English and were purchased at Vinnie’s. The vintage spoons and heavy French ladle came from a garage sale. Thank you to Megan Martin from Eurowalls who kindly provided the black wallpaper for the surface I photographed on. The only light used in this image is window light.