Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tomato Soup from Scratch

For the longest time, tomato soup seemed a bit mysterious to me. I can't really put my finger on why, but I suppose I wasn't sure how one could start by simmering tomatoes and end up with something that wasn't begging for pasta. Really, though, it's as simple as getting past the tomatoishness of it, and just putting soup first in your mind. Start with a mirepoix, deglaze and simmer everything with stock. It's really just a matter of swapping tomatoes for your meat.

I certainly haven't ceased keeping a can around to crack open for lunch, but being able to use really wonderful tomatoes, which are becoming more readily available in the supermarkets, turns this into a feast in its own right.
  • 1 medium sweet pepper (optional)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 large stalks of celery, with plenty of leaves included
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 2 lbs tomatoes, peeled (see below), or 1 large (28oz) can tomatoes
  • 3 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

Roast the bell pepper, if using, directly over an open flame. Leave it until it is popping, crackling, and blackened, then turn to another side, and continue until it is blistered and black all over. Place it in a small mixing bowl, cover with a plate, and let steam for 10 minutes or so.
 Meanwhile, coarsely chop the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until softened. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. When the pepper is ready, rub off most of the peel with your fingers or a kitchen rag, slice up half of it and add that, too. (Save the other half for tacos, salad topping, pasta, or just about anything. You could just add it to the soup, too; just change the name to "Tomato and Roasted Pepper Soup.")

Add the tomatoes (here, frozen from my garden), along with the stock. (If your tomatoes require peeling, add just a bit of the stock at first, cover and steam for a few minutes. Pull out the tomatoes and cool until you are able to handle them, and the peels should slip of fairly easily.)

You might just find yourself using this stuff, too.
I won't tell.
About that stock, did you know that it's permissible to use chicken stock on meatless days? Or that you can make stock for free? Whatever you do, make sure you scrape up all those lovely blackish-brown bits at the bottom of your pan after you've added it. They're pure flavor.

Cover your pot, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until your vegetables are quite soft. Now, if you prefer a chunkier soup, and your tomatoes are fairly well mashed, you can just season to taste and serve right here. If you want a traditional dip for your perfect grilled cheese, however, you'll want to blend this thoroughly.

If you have an immersion blender, your job is quite easy. Just put it in the pot and turn it on until it's as smooth as you like. If you're using a regular blender, though, you should:
  • let the soup cool down for at least 10 minutes, 
  • fill the blender no more than  2/3 full
  • put the lid on, then throw a kitchen towel over it,
  • and hold the lid on tightly while you blend.
All of the above should prevent a highly messy and potentially scalding soup-splosion in your kitchen.

Once blended, you may return the soup to the pot to warm it back up again, and you should check your seasonings at this time. Tomatoes vary widely in flavor, as do tastes in tomato soup, so you may find yourself adding any of the following to a batch:
  • for an overall lacklustre soup:
    • ½ can or more tomato paste
    • red or white wine
    • a healthy dash balsamic vinegar
    • a half-tablespoon of lemon juice
  • for overly acidic tomatoes:
    • white or brown sugar
    • molasses
    • a bit more salt
  • if the soup is too cloying, or lacks "meatiness":
    • worchestershire sauce
    • soy sauce
    • hot sauce
    • mustard
    • celery salt
  • basil, powdered garlic, or a bit of smoked paprika can be nice additions as well. However tempting it may be, I would not recommend adding too much oregano, lest your diners find themselves wondering if you have repurposed last week's marinara sauce..

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I have been adding a pinch of caraway to my soups lately; it especially adds a depth of flavor to potato and lentil based soups.