Sometimes I feel like I should change the name of this blog to “comfort foods that Jon likes” because honestly that seems to be the majority of dishes that I like to make. Aren’t I supposed to be experimenting with new and interesting foods instead of learning how to master dishes that I already love? Well, I guess you could say that this blog isn’t supposed to be anything other than a way for me to share my photographs and learn how to cook. So there.
As you may recall, I made a really lovely tomato soup over the winter during one of the snow storms that I was assured never happen in St. Louis. The dip in the mercury earlier in the week got me thinking about cold weather foods again, so I decided to take another shot at cream-less tomato soup, this time with grilled cheese sandwiches instead of popcorn.
I have to admit that Dr. Fiance and I both agree: this version of the soup was far superior to the first one. The tomato flavor was much more fresh and clear with a tiny bit of heat. The texture and consistency were reminiscent of your run of the mill canned tomato soup, but slightly thicker. Unlike my previous attempt, instead of being slightly chunky, this version was smooth and silky.
There are several reasons for the vast improvement to my tomato soup technique, the least of which being that I am now four months further along in my study of cooking and probably have just gotten a tiny bit better at following recipes, right?
Well, actually, not so much. The first change I made when making the tomato soup the second time around was to mis-read the recipe and to only use one can of tomatoes instead of two. This meant that the ratio of chicken stock to tomatoes was much higher. This gave the soup had a lighter and more mellow color, and I think ultimately had a better taste. I’m used to this type of happy accident – I went to art school after all. “No, really professor, that spilled paint on the floor is really an avante garde installation piece.”
The other major factor that I think contributed to the soup this time was ingredients. For the tomatoes I used canned Italian roma tomatoes instead of the run of the mill canned tomatoes, but still a generic brand. More importantly I used chicken stock from my second batch made in the late fall, which was vastly improved from the earlier batch. Finally, I used some home made white sandwich bread instead of using the more rustic whole wheat bread that we eat pretty much every day. The milk-based white bread obviously gave a different flavor and texture. And then of course I added a couple of tablespoons of cognac to the soup as well. What … it was on the kitchen counter from yesterday’s banana bread, so I had to toss some in, sue me.
Finally I spent a little more time with the immersion blender and worked through the texture a little bit more. For a soup like this I don’t think you can really over-blend it. If anything, you’ll aerate the soup a bit and make it even more light and silky.
Creamless Tomato Soup #2
Adapted from a recipe found at Cooks Illustrated, (subscription req’d)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Big pinch of red pepper (optional or to taste)
1 bay leaf
1 28oz of whole roma tomatoes in juice
1 Tbs brown sugar
3 thick slices of sandwich bread, crusts removed, cubed,
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons cognac
fresh chives, chopped to garnish
Put a large pot or dutch oven on the burner over medium high heat. Once the pot is heated, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion, garlic, red pepper and bay leaf. The smell at this point will be amazing. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent, then add in the tomatoes and their juice.
Use a fork or potato masher to break up the whole tomatoes. Add in the bread and the sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently until the bread starts to break down. Remove the bay leaf, then blend the soup with an immersion blender until the mixture has a smooth and silky texture. This can also be done in a countertop blender, in batches.
Add in the chicken stock, stir and bring the soup back to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chopped chives as a garnish. This dish is great paired with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Grilled cheese suggestion: Home made wheat bread, gruyere and watercress (or baby arugula).
As a final note, when serving tomato soup, don’t skimp on what goes with it. While popcorn is always a fun side dish, everyone really wants grilled cheese sandwiches to dip in their soup. You could go with the classic – American cheese on Wonder Bread, however, I feel like you can do better. The soup is pretty damn healthy, especially since there isn’t any cream added, so I feel it’s ok to go all out on the sandwich. I served my soup with mini-grilled cheese sandwiches made from a home made whole wheat bâtard (which is like a small baguette) with gruyere and baby arugula. I wanted to use watercress but wasn’t able to find any. I pan fried them (liberally buttered) with a second pan on top, weighted down with the second can of tomatoes I forgot to put in the soup. Delicious.