Friday, March 13, 2009

mmm... homemade tomato soup

Hey, I made soup!

I keep forgetting how easy soup can be to make, especially because it's not an exact science. Don't like garlic? Leave it out. Don't have any celery on hand? Throw in some other vegetable. It also comes together really quickly. I don't have enough time after work to make soup and eat it that night for dinner, but it's easy enough to whip up a batch in the evening and have it for dinner the next night.

You can basically make soup from any combination of broth or stock, vegetables, meats, and even grains (pasta or rice) that appeals to you. I'm not claiming they'll all be winning recipes, but soup is a great way to use up whatever's on its last legs in your fridge.

If you're not looking to experiment, there are about a zillion soup recipes. I have three or four standbys (split pea, chicken, butternut squash, and lentil), but I don't actually make soup that frequently. The Kitchen went kind of soup-nuts in February, posting a soup recipe every day. (See what I did there? soup... nuts...) This rustic tomato soup totally appealed to me. The cute croutons on top made me think of a soup version of panzanella. In my effort to eat well this week, I gave this recipe a try and invited over friends to join us for soup and salad tonight.

I made only a few tiny changes to the recipe, so I'll post my version here:

Rustic Tomato Soup with Toasted Parmesan Croutons
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
6 sprigs parsley
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I used fat free half-and-half, which I've never cooked with before)
Freshly-ground pepper
Part of a sourdough baguette, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1 teaspoon (plus or minus) olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Sauté until tender and just starting to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, whole parsley sprigs (you're going to pull them out later), and stock. I'm sure you could use fresh tomatoes, whir them up in the food processor, and have a delicious result. I did this the quick way. I also threw in some salt and pepper, but not too much. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. (I think I cooked it longer - maybe closer to 45. I was baking cookies at the time and didn't set a second timer.) Remove parsley sprigs and discard.

3. Puree soup. I used an immersion blender, and it was definitely not velvety-smooth, which I liked, but I did also find some well-cooked, small pieces of vegetable that didn't get blended. You could also puree it in batches in a food processor or blender; I'm just lazy and didn't want to wash extra dishes or splat tomato soup all over. Stir in cream or half-and-half and remaining half-tablespoon of butter. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper. Also, I like my tomato soup a little sweet, so I sprinkled in some sugar, probably 1/8 cup overall. I put in about a tablespoon, and then, as the soup cooled and I decided it still didn't have that subtle sweetness I wanted, I added a little more.

4. Just before you're planning to serve the soup, make the croutons. Slice the baguette into 1/4" pieces. I estimated two croutons per bowl of soup and I think I made about 14 croutons from about 1/3 of a baguette. Brush the bread very lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400º for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and sprinkle with parmesan. (I'm sure you could sprinkle on the cheese before baking, but I didn't want to deal with washing off baked-on cheese. Again, lazy.)

5. Ladle soup into bowls and place a few croutons on top. You'll totally get cheers for presentation! If you let the croutons sit for a few minutes, they'll absorb some of the soup, softening so you can cut them with the side of your spoon, but they'll still retain some of the crunch. YUM.

Makes 10 servings. I assume it would freeze reasonably well, but I haven't tried it.

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