Roasted tomato and basil soup
A robustly flavored Italian soup made with roasted tomatoes and highlighted with fresh basil.

6 tomatoes (preferably vine-ripened)—cut in half horizontally
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup roughly torn bread (crusts removed)
2 cloves garlic—roughly chopped
8 large fresh basil leaves—roughly torn
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

PREHEAT oven the 250°C/480°F. PLACE the tomato halves, cut side up, on a baking tray and cook for 30 minutes. BRING the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. ADD the roasted tomatoes, bread, garlic, basil, salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. REMOVE from the heat and transfer to a blender. PROCESS until smooth and return to the pot. STIR in the oil and vinegar. SERVE in bowls garnished with a little finely chopped basil and freshly ground black pepper.

Variation: Add some fresh chili or a pinch of chili flakes for a spicy kick.

Tips: Use good quality vegetable stock and the best tomatoes available to enhance the fresh, natural flavors. Italian ciabatta bread is ideal in this soup.