Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Can Tinker with the Flavors

After that little intermission about breakfast and a few not-so-frequently asked questions, I thought it was time to get back to the tomato soup I mentioned eons ago.  This one is worth the wait, I promise.

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I wish I could tell you that when I was growing up, I was the type of kid who liked to take everything apart so that I could see the insides, the hidden stuff, the parts that made things work.  It would make for a better story to explain why I became a scientist and why I spend my days taking things apart (genetically, at least) and putting them back together.

But I wasn’t that kid.  I’m not sure I was very curious as a child.  I was more fond of order, of making sense of the world by making it neat and tidy.  Taking things apart really didn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons: if you take something apart, you’ve got to put it back together to restore its sense of order!  And maybe this sounds ridiculous, but I think that when I was younger, I just didn’t know enough to be curious about the world.  Things just worked.  It was neither magic nor mystery; it was just the way things were.

Well.  That child would be shocked to see who she became after a few years and a few degrees.  Though I still prefer order to chaos, I’ve gotten awfully good at taking things apart.  Even better, I know how to put them back together to make something terrific, like a nice bowl of creamy tomato soup.

Tomato Soup

Wait.  I’m taking too much credit for this tomato soup.  I should tell you that EatingWell helped me quite a bit here.  They’ve been running a new series on kitchen techniques at the back of the magazine.  As part of the series, they often feature a “master” recipe for, say, fruit bars, and then the test kitchen offers you a few flavor variations on that master recipe so you can follow your craving for cranberry-orange bars or apple-cinnamon bars.  (I’ll take one of each, please!)  I love this approach to learning about recipes and cooking technique because it’s a deconstruction that lets you see the bare bones of the recipe—the working parts—and then you can tinker with the flavors to your heart’s content.

The March/April 2011 issue of EatingWell featured a kitchen technique article on blended vegetable soups.  They offer a flavorful “base” recipe which you then use to make one of four variations: tomato, potato-artichoke, pea, or carrot.  I’ve made the tomato and the pea soups, and I can tell you that they are both really wonderful, well-balanced, and nicely textured.  The base recipe is really a keeper, but I confess that I don’t follow it exactly as written.  I made two easy swaps to accommodate my kitchen: I leave out the celery and add an extra onion, and I use dried herbs instead of fresh.  I also mix up the herbs I use, which is just plain old kitchen fun in my opinion.

I guess what I’m saying is that the base recipe is a good place to start.  I think my substitutions are fairly minor—just some changes to the aromatics in the recipe—and I have made several great batches of soup.  So consider this tomato soup recipe a place to start for a flavorful, creamy, but not too rich tomato soup.

Happy cooking!

Perfect Creamy Tomato Soup

Adapted loosely from EatingWell

Serves 4-6 as an entree

The soup “base” here is everything but the diced tomatoes.  The heavy cream is optional, but I like what it adds to this soup.

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, preferably one red and one yellow, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1 28-oz. can best-quality diced tomatoes

4 cups vegetable broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1)  In a large soup pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter melts.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned soft.  Add the garlic, thyme, and basil; cook for another 10-15 seconds.

2)  Stir the tomatoes into the onion mixture, then add the vegetable broth.  Bring the whole thing to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to keep everything simmering for about 10-15 minutes.

3)  Puree the soup using a stand blender or immersion blender.  If you are using a stand blender, puree in batches so as not to overfill the pitcher.

4)  Stir the heavy cream into the blended soup.  Grind some black pepper over the whole thing, then taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.


Shannon said...

ooh, i've tried tomato soup once or twice and not liked it, i'll have to remember this one :)

Rosiecat said...

It's true--tomato soup can be a tricky thing to get right. And of course, by "right," I mean whatever tastes right to you. Do let me know if you try this one--I'd love to hear what you think! :-)