Dear Mom and Dad,
Today I had the most wonderful tomato soup. And I actually made it! Okay, it wasn’t fancy or very fussy, and actually, it could have been pureed a little bit smoother. But it tasted just about perfect: full-bodied and fresh, not too sour, but not too dulled with milk or cream that you can’t taste the tang of the tomato at all. And it wasn’t too loose or chunky, like a marinara sauce, either. So I guess I was able to solve all my pet peeves about tomato soup by simply making it myself.
I added a handful of basil leaves right at the end. I’ll admit that it’s out of season. But these past few days have been absolutely FREEZING in the city, and I felt like this reminder of sunnier days might help warm me up even more. I’m not happy about this sudden drop in temperatures. The wind makes me furious somehow with each gust, so that I’m walking around the streets hunchbacked, with my eyebrows furrowed and nose crinkled up like a crotchety old woman catching a glimpse of porn. I really need to get into yoga class more.
I’m not sure how most people make their tomato soup, but I started out with a mirepoix of carrots, onions and celery plus one other ingredient, which I think really made a difference: a couple fresh chili peppers. These cayenne peppers were actually still growing on the roof. I guess it’s not too cold for them still. (But they tasted very mild; this soup is not really very spicy.) I think you could easily swap these for a pinch of red pepper flakes.
A can of plum tomatoes with all their juice went in next. Then I transferred everything to a food processor to pulse it nice and smooth. Its color turned lighter, and the mixture was just the right consistency for me, so I didn’t add any more liquid.
Then, I just let it cook. A very low simmer for an hour or so. The stuff hardly needed any salt, but I ground in lots of black pepper just to spice it up more. It goes well with fresh basil, I think. With a crust of bread, this soup is oddly filling, for being all vegetables. It completely warmed me up, too, though I probably ate more of it tasting it while it was cooking than the bowl I had at the end. I know what you’re thinking: I never liked tomato soup, out of a can, when growing up at home. I still don’t. And now I don’t have much reason to give it another try since I have about half a gallon of this stuff. I guess it’s more complicated than opening a can and heating it, but there’s nothing like standing over a sizzling mirepoix and watching the icy-white onions slowly melt into clear golden sludge when it’s cold out.
Tomato Soup to Write Home About
(makes about 6 servings)
1 large can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 small celery rib (preferably from the core, with some leaves), chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2-3 fresh cayenne or serrano peppers, seeded and chopped (or substitute with dried red chile flakes to taste)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling as garnish)
Sweat the onions, carrots, celery and chiles in olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, over low heat for about 8 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and all their juices. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse several times until mixture is completely smooth. Return to the pot and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for at least 40 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add the basil leaves, and serve. Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.
(for about 6 servings)
1 can plum tomatoes: $3.29
1 small onion: $0.25
1 carrot: $0.25
1 celery rib: $0.30
1 bunch fresh basil: $3.00
2 cayenne peppers (from garden): $0.25
salt, pepper, olive oil: $0.40
Four brownie points: The texture of this soup is deceivingly rich; there’s no added butter, cream or fats besides heart-healthy olive oil. It satisfies with a bold flavor of tomato, with a hint of spice, instead. The important thing to remember is that they’re canned, and that usually comes with heaps of sodium. Taste before you salt anything, and look for all-natural or organic tomatoes without additives like calcium chloride, a firming agent (and sodium source) which you don’t need.
Four maple leaves: Just four points here, for the carrot, onion, celery and chili peppers that were sourced locally (the latter being homegrown). It’s definitely canned food season now. I just wish I had canned some more of my own tomatoes.