Sunday, August 29, 2010

two intense tomato soups for one mildly compulsive cook and eater

I think I am surely a bit obsessive, because I find myself thinking a lot about tomato soup. During and after the Great Tomato Soup Taste-off, I felt sure that the best soup had to be concocted in my own kitchen. Quite fortuitously, I came across two recipes for tomato soup, so I had my own little tomato soup cook-off on Friday evening. The results were excellent.

The first recipe is my friend Helmi's. I visited with Helmi and her husband Fred on Wednesday. They live in Whonnock, about an hour's drive out into the country from where I live. Helmi and Fred have lived in amazing cities in Europe and South America, and in Vancouver. Now they live in a rural area out past the suburbs, in a lovely home filled with books, music and art, nestled on a several-acre lot populated by various wildlife and a loveable dog named Chica. We sat in the garden at a table with a gorgeous batik cloth, and enjoyed a lunch which included a sweet potato and tomato soup prepared from a recipe in The Book of Latin American Cooking, by Elisabeth Lambert Otiz (Knopf 1979). Helmi served sherry before lunch, and Fred showed off his new iPad (yes, I AM jealous). Fred also looked over a sheaf of poetry that I brought to him, and helped me decide on a cover image for the chapbook that he will design for me this fall.

The second recipe I found by following a link from the New York Times Food's twitter feed. It's one of Martha Rose Shulman's Recipes for Health (I love you, Martha Rose!). Normally, my dad sends me all of the links for good recipes from the New York Times, but he has just bought a new computer, and he's editing another math textbook, so I think he is too busy to ogle food in the newspaper online. The recipe is for a cold blender tomato soup. If I know my dad, he will send me the link in due time (probably between chapters), as I'm guessing he'll compulsively catch up on all of the back foody pages that he has missed, and send me a sheaf of links to follow.

While I have tomatoes on the brain, I am also watching about 100 of the beautiful fruit grow big and green on 3 tomato plants that we have at our house. Two are up on the deck, and one is down in the box garden. The cherry tomatoes have been ripening, a few each week, and I have gobbled them, standing beside the plant, as soon as they are ready. The big round tomatoes (Manitoba is their name) and the Romas are all still green, but growing in size and number. Andy and I discussed whether they should ripen on the plant or on the window sill, and did not agree. On Thursday, I was sewing a dress and listening to the radio, and Brian Minter came on CBC Radio 1's Almanac Show. I called in, and asked. He told me to leave them on the vine for optimum ripening and flavour, but to protect the plants from late-summer blight by putting up a rain shelter to keep the rain off the foliage. The Cherry and Roma plants are on the deck, under the overhang of the roof, so they are safe. The Manitoba is exposed. So on Friday, I bought plant stakes and poly, and made a canopy in the garden for the tomato plant. Let's see how it works now!

On Friday, I also shopped for ingredients. Lacking enough home grown ripe tomatoes just yet, I bought the yummiest vine-ripened ones I could find at Joe's Produce. They were just 79 cents per pound, for local ones. I also bought basil, the slugs having polished off my basil plant in the garden. The lady at Joe's was tidying the herb bundles up when I came to the cooler to find basil, so she gave me the biggest, freshest bunch, and a generous handful of extra sprigs. It looked more like a bag of spinach than basil! I needed sweet potatoes too, and found some. This isn't the greatest time of year for root vegetables, but that's okay, Joe's always has good stuff.

Here are the recipes, in my short and sweet version with editorial comments and adjustments for what I have in my kitchen. You can see the originals by following the links above (in the case of the sweet potato soup, you'll need to track down the book to see the original - I think it would be worth it, and plan to find a copy to buy myself.)

Sweet Potato (and Tomato) Soup
from The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz

1 pound sweet potatoes (the light coloured ones - not yams)
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
4 cups beef stock (Helmi said broth cubes are fine - I used Knorr powder)
salt and pepper

Peel, cut into chunks and boil or steam the sweet potatoes for about 20 minutes. Chop the cooked sweet potato coarsely. Heat the butter in a large fry pan (don't scrimp! this really helps make the soup delicious!). If you are a vegan, I think you could substitute 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the onion until soft, then add the chopped tomato and cook for about 5 minutes. I wasn't sure about whether to include the juice and seeds from the tomato, so I did, but I held these out of the frying pan and added them directly to the broth. Put 1 cup broth into a blender or food processer, along with the sweet potatoes and tomato/onion mixture. Blend to a smooth puree. Add this to the remaining broth or stock, whichever you are using. If you are vegetarian, I think a vegetable broth, or even water would work just fine. Reheat the soup, and season with salt and pepper. The recipe says to garnish with chopped parsely or cilantro. Helmi says a blob of sour cream is nicer. I have tried both the cilantro and the sour cream and like either (or both together!)

This soup is spectacularly simple and VERY YUMMY! It looks more like sweet potato, but the ripe tomato flavour comes through beautifully. Despite being a pureed soup, it is not too thick and gloopy, so you will enjoy eating it in summer, when the tomatoes are naturally and locally ripe.

Blender Tomato Soup
by Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times Recipes for Health Series

2 pounds ripe locally grown tomatoes (Martha's specification, and I agree)
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup onion, chopped finely
2 Tbs sherry vinegar - I used white wine vinegar, having no sherry vinegar around
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (I think I used about 1/3 cup - they just smell so good, and there's a special on basil leaves at my house this week)
a pinch of cayenne
1 cup water

Take 2 medium tomatoes out of the bunch and grate them over a bowl, using a sharp, coarse grater. Dump them into a strainer that has been lined with cheesecloth, and put this over a bowl to catch the tomato water that falls through. Let it drip for one hour. (I thought this step was incredibly fussy, but when you taste the intense tomato flavour of the soup, you will understand that it is worth it.)

Cut the rest of the tomatoes into wedges and put them in another bowl with the garlic (okay, I used 2 cloves) the vinegar, the olive oil and a bit of salt. The onions are optional, and the instruction is to soak the chopped onion for 5 minutes in cold water, then drain and rinse before adding to the tomato bowl. I did this, although I'm not sure if it makes a difference.

After an hour, give the cheesecloth a good squeeze to work out the remaining tomato juice. Chuck out the pulp that's left behind. Er COMPOST the pulp that's left behind. Put the juice into the blender with the tomato/onion mixture, the tomato paste, cayenne and water, and all but a few of the basil leaves (save some for garnish). Ooops, I put all of the basil leaves in. Oh well, there were more in the fridge, which I used for garnish. Completely puree the mixture in the blender or food processer.

To serve the soup, pour it through a strainer into your soup bowl. Push the mixture through with a spoon or spatula. Most of it will go through, leaving just tomato seeds and bit of pulp behind. I tried it both strained and un-strained. Both are good, but strained is heavenly good. Garnish with a few basil leaf slivers. Very elegant!

I sat down at 8pm Friday, all by myself, to 2 beautiful bowls of soup. Fiona was out with friends. Alex and Andy were both at work. Had they been here, they would have heard my whoops of delight as I tasted the soups. (I might even have shared them, although I think I am the only tomato soup eater at our house.) For my solo supper of two soups, I ate four bowls (2 of each kind). The cold soup is astonishing in its beautiful flavour and light texture. The warm soup looks plain, but it's not. It has a depth and light richness to it, that you just have to taste to get.

By the way, did you ever notice that the segments of a tomato are sort of like the chambers of the heart? Probably, if you have done a dissection, you will tell me I am wrong, but whenever I cup up a tomato and squish out the juice and seeds, I think, "heart."

Did I say that would be short and sweet? I guess I was wrong. I do have the recipe for "sweet" down pat (I think) but I'm not so good at "short." I guess I am obsessive about cooking and compulsive about talking about it and happy with both conditions.

question: are you enjoying the fruits of summer?

mompoet - WHOOOPING when the soup is good

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