My dad loved to grow vegetables in his garden. He would often call me up in the late days of summer and recite to me what was growing there. One evening he called to say, “I’m making homemade tomato soup from the tomatoes I grew myself!” He said he planned to freeze most of it and enjoy it all winter.
One of my dad’s favorite dishes to serve us when we visited was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It was his ultimate comfort lunch, and quick, too. The kind of meal we could wolf down after a run or before we headed into Chicago to visit a museum or a see a show.
So in the years since his passing, I have found myself remembering that distant conversation about homemade tomato soup and thinking I should try to find a recipe and make a pot myself.
This was the year. I brought home a bunch of tomatoes from the farmers’ market and rummaged around in my cookbooks looking for the right recipe.
To my amazement, even in the best of the best cookbooks, tomato soup recipes most often start with a can of tomatoes. I don’t really have anything against canned tomatoes. But with the abundance of fresh, field-ripened red jewels, opening a can just seems like second place. Plus, it doesn’t satisfy the vision in my mind’s eye of my dad puttering about in his condo kitchen, slicing the tomatoes and fussing over the large dutch oven pot as they stewed.
Alice Waters saved the day. In her cookbook, “Art of Simple Food,” I found what I was looking for. A tomato soup recipe that hardly called for much work, was ready within a half hour, with relatively few ingredients other than fresh tomatoes. One interesting ingredient is a tablespoon of white rice. This serves as a thickener and disappears once the soup is puréed in a blender. If you like thiner soup, simply omit the rice.
I got to work slicing the tomatoes in my tiny condo kitchen and heating them in a large dutch oven pot until they relaxed into mush.
When I finally sat down to enjoy a steaming bowl with a generous slice of crusty baguette – I was in heaven. The soup tasted … fluffy. Can a soup taste fluffy? This is the only way I can think to describe it. Big puffs of tomato flavor slid across my tongue so creamy I couldn’t believe there was no added milk – or cream cheese, as suggested by one recipe I turned the page on.
I know Dad would have been pleased with my efforts, even if I didn’t grow the tomatoes myself.
From “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion sliced
1 small leek, white and light green parts, sliced
A pinch of salt
2 gloves garlic
2 lbs. ripe tomatoes (about 10 medium tomatoes) washed, cored, and sliced
1 scant tablespoon white rice
A large pinch of salt
1/2 bay leaf
1 small sprig of savory, thyme, or basil
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1. Using a heavy-bottomed pan, warm olive oil and melt butter then add the onion and leek with a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until soft, but not brown. If necessary, add water to keep from browning.
2. Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, white rice, bay leaf, a large pinch of salt and the sprig of savory, thyme, or basil. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes fall apart.
4. Add 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon butter and continue cooking another 10 minutes until the rice is tender. Remove the herb sprigs.
5. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender, not more than 1/3 full. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Pass the puréed soup through a medium strainer to remove skin and seeds. Taste for salt. Add more water if soup is too thick. Serve.
A version of this post first appeared on KitchenReport.net.