I didn’t like tomatoes when I was growing up. In fact, though I wouldn’t describe myself as a picky eater, I had a long list of things I didn’t like. In addition to tomatoes, I wouldn’t touch sour cream, bananas, avocados, fruit pie, or any kind of melon, to name a few. Oddly, I liked things most children refuse, like broccoli and lima beans. In my early twenties, I read somewhere that your tastes change with age, so I made a resolution to try all of the things I thought I hated. Not surprisingly, I discovered that there are very few things that I dislike. That realization opened my food horizons and now, I never refuse to taste something new- I just might love it.
The first time I tasted an in-season, homegrown tomato, I was shocked that it was so different than the often mealy and flavorless ones we buy all year at the grocery store. Now, tomato season is something I anxiously look forward to; plucking a fresh tomato off of a vine that grew in my backyard is one of the great joys of gardening and of summertime. I love counting the little yellow blossoms. I love watching the green tomatoes grow and change color. I love tasting the different varieties (there are just so many). Gardening in Park City is tricky because of our short growing season, and we’ve had to pull our tomato plants before the fruit has reached its magical peak more than once. But, despite the challenges, we’ll grow them every year- they’re just that good.
Our favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes is probably our classic tomato toastette. We pop the little Sungolds like candy and litter our salads with them. During a year with an early frost, we let the fat heirlooms ripen in a basket, each one lovingly swaddled in newspaper; those became the stars of a fabulous autumn meat sauce. This week, after a week of big sun and garden daydreams, the weather grew cooler and rainy. It was soup weather, but my mind was on my garden: homemade tomato soup would be perfect.
It’s not tomato season yet, which means that good canned tomatoes will be more consistent in flavor. I opted for a combination of organic tomatoes on the vine and a large can of San Marzano tomatoes. Instead of celery (which I didn’t have on hand), I decided to substitute fennel. With these gorgeous ingredients, how bad could it be?
My first task was to peel and seed the fresh tomatoes (seeds add bitterness). It’s a bit of a process, but not difficult. I scored an “X” into the bottom of each tomato and boiled them for a couple of minutes to loosen the skin. I plunged them into ice water to stop the cooking process and let them cool a little before easily pulling the peel off. I quartered the tomatoes and removed their seeds over a strainer with a bowl under it to catch all of the tasty juices. Voila! Fresh tomatoes in juice, ready to use alongside the canned version.
I started by sautéing my onion, carrot, fennel, and garlic in some olive oil for about ten minutes. When the veggies had become tender, I added the tomatoes, canned and fresh. I tossed in a couple of bay leaves and added chopped fresh herbs: basil, parsley, and thyme.
Next, I added a bit of chicken stock, a heaping spoonful of tomato paste, and two chicken bouillon cubes. (For a vegetarian version, use vegetable broth and “No Chik’n” broth cubes.) I sprinkled in some sugar to balance out the tomatoes’ acidity and added lots of crushed red pepper for heat. Last, to take the soup over the top, I added a big dollop of butter.
Once the soup had simmered away for 30 minutes or so, I blended it up with my immersion blender, right in the pot. After adjusting the seasoning, I ladled the thick deliciousness into our bowls and topped the soup with more fresh basil. Soup’s on!
This tomato soup is packed with flavor and comfort. I like using the hand blender because the soup retains some texture- the ingredients are not too pureed. Using fennel instead of celery adds a new depth of flavor; I’ll be using it every time I make this soup. There’s something decadent about a bowl of tomato soup, but it’s also classic and nostalgic. It’s fresh and velvety and surprisingly filling, and put down the spoon– it’s best eaten scooped onto a piece of cheesy toast.
Without asking for his opinion, John repeated over and over that it was the best tomato soup he’s ever had, and I have to agree. I can’t believe I ever turned my nose up at the glorious tomato.
But do not- I repeat, do NOT– try to get me to eat a piece of melon. It won’t end well.
The Best Tomato Soup
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 cup chopped fennel bulb
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- 5 fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup chopped basil
- ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 1 heaping teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (more to taste)
- Chopped basil for topping
- Cheese toast for dipping
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, fennel, and carrot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. After five minutes, add the garlic and sauté for ten minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes, the bay leaves, and the fresh herbs. Stir well. After a few minutes, add the chicken broth, bouillon cubes, tomato paste, sugar, crushed red pepper, butter, and salt and pepper. Simmer on medium low heat for 30-45 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the soup until you achieve a consistent texture. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with fresh basil on top and use a piece of cheesy toast like a spoon. YUM.
Hungry for more? Check out the collection of recipes on the FOOD BLISS page.
The New 52: A recipe for each week in 2015.