Cooking with San Francisco Cooking School: Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil Oil and Garlic Crouton
Every cook worth her salt has written something about her love and adoration for in-season, sweet, juicy tomatoes. I’ll spare you the love story here but, suffice to say, I can’t get enough of them either.
My very favorite way to eat a peak-of-the-season tomato? That’s easy, and maybe a little embarrassing. I spent a vacation many years ago in South Carolina, where tomatoes and sweet onions were everywhere. My mother-in-law introduced me to a sandwich that blew my mind: thick slices of ripe tomato and thin slices of raw sweet onion nestled between two toasted slices of supermarket white bread that had been spread with store-bought mayonnaise. Short of telling you to go out and try it, I can’t begin to explain how delicious it was, so just give it a try (I ate two or three a day, and do the same at home whenever it’s the right time of year).
Since sharing my obsession with such a pedestrian sandwich is something I don’t do broadly, I need a plan B when it comes to making the most of my summer heirlooms, and my go-to is soup. Ripe, red tomato soup that tastes, well . . . like tomatoes. I don’t clutter it with too many herbs, spices or garnishes because I want the straight-up punch of a killer tomato.
Start by sautéing a mirepoix of veggies (that’s carrot, celery and onion) in olive oil. Once they are very soft, add a couple pounds of chopped, seeded tomatoes. (I take the time to peel mine by dropping them quickly in boiling water, and then ice water, before removing the skin.) Cook the mixture until the tomatoes begin to break down, seasoning with salt and pepper, then add a few cups of your favorite liquid, be it chicken stock, vegetable stock or even water. If you want to throw in a sprig of thyme or rosemary, both go well with tomatoes—it’s your call, just don’t overdo it with the herbs. Let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes then purée it until very smooth. Taste and season as needed, until the flavor of your tomatoes really sings. A teaspoon or two of balsamic can help here too.
For garnishes, I like a fruity olive oil infused with basil, croutons toasted with a bit of garlic, or a tiny scoop of crème fraiche. Remember that fat carries flavor so soup finished with something that has a bit of fat will hold its flavor in your mouth longer, making that tomato taste even more worthwhile.
What to serve on the side, you ask? I know—most people jump straight to their childhood favorite, the grilled cheese sandwich. I love ’em too and the combo makes perfect sense, but remember, it’s tomato season after all. Skip the grilled cheese, sneak a loaf of white bread into your shopping cart and make that tomato/onion sandwich. You can thank me, and my mother-in-law, later.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped celery
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ¼ cup chopped carrot
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 pounds peeled, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes, juices reserved (4–6 tomatoes)
- Sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup olive oil
- 6 slices toasted baguette rubbed with a cut clove of garlic
FOR THE SOUP:
FOR THE BASIL OIL:
To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a medium nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion and carrot with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, 10–15 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, herb sprig if using, and stock and cook 15–20 minutes more, until the tomatoes have broken down and the vegetables are very soft. Remove and discard the herb sprig. Transfer the soup, in batches if necessary, to a blender and purée until smooth. Strain the soup into a clean saucepan and place over low heat. Stir in a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, and balsamic if needed, and cook 5 minutes more.
To make the basil oil, heat a small pot of water over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, drop in the leaves and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately plunge the leaves into a bowl of ice water and let rest for 1 minute. Drain the leaves in a colander and remove any excess moisture from the leaves by squeezing them between two plates over the sink. Place the leaves in a blender with the ½ cup olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Strain through a very fine strainer and reserve.
When ready to serve the soup, place it in a warm soup bowl. Drizzle a bit of basil oil over each bowl of soup and, if desired, serve with a garlic crouton.
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Cooking with San Francisco Cooking School: Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil Oil and Garlic Croutons was published in the Summer 2016 issue. © 2016 Edible San Francisco.