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Whether your grandma made it from scratch or you drank it straight from the red and white can, chances are, if you were born in the U.S., tomato soup features prominently in your reel of childhood memories. My kids are picky when it comes to tomato soup, pronouncing most restaurant versions "too chunky" or "tastes like ketchup." The version we enjoy at home—a weeknight favorite of all family members—is a version so dead simple, it captures the pure essence of tomatoes and spoils us for all other tomato soups. And this time of year, even though nighttime chills have set in and the neighborhood Halloween decorations have gone up, we can still find plenty of locally grown tomatoes kicking around. Better yet, they're often a bargain because of unsightly blemishes or less-than optimal shapes. I buy them in bulk from Wilklow Orchards at my local Brooklyn market. You'll find some recipes that ask you to blanch the tomatoes and strip off the skins. I strongly believe you can skip this step for two reasons. 1. If cooked and blended, the skins actually hold a lot of flavor and nutrients. I learned this ages ago during a brief internship at the restaurant Arpège in Paris, where I was fortunate enough to work directly with chef Alain Passard, he who worships at the altar of the vegetable. He used every last scrap of everything and made a delicious ravioli filled with long-cooked tomato skins that melted and mellowed until they tasted like candy. You're missing out if you aren't incorporating them into the soup. 2. With a good blender or a plain old mesh sieve, you can eliminate the undesirable textures caused by errant bits of skin. My line in the sand is seeds. A few won't hurt, but if you don't seed your tomatoes all those seeds will cause an unpleasant bitterness. So take them out. But make sure not to lose the super special, not-so-secret ingredient that makes this soup extra bright and tomatoey: tomato water. Tomato water is where a lot of a tomato's flavor resides, so don't throw it out! Finally, if you're not a fan of heavy cream or prefer a vegan version of this soup, by all means feel free to eliminate or dial it back. I like the way it rounds out the soup and gives it some richness, but I also believe the soup can stand on its own, without dairy. Last, but definitely not least, the fixins: There are some who think that the best part of tomato soup is the grilled cheese served alongside it for dipping, and I don't completely disagree. I like to grate together various abandoned ends of cheese onto sliced sourdough, sandwich it, and fry it in butter in a hot skillet. Sometimes I'll cut them into little crouton squares and set them loose on top of the soup. Sometimes, if I have leftover polenta in the refrigerator, I'll cut it into batons, dredge them in a little flour, and fry them in olive oil until the outsides are crisp and brown. Avocado toast or excellent, untoasted bread both make nice tablemates for a good, warm bowl of tomato soup.
Simple Tomato Soup Serves approximately 4 Ingredients:
4 lbs or so red, ripe tomatoes
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced OR 1 small leek white and 1 small shallot, both peeled and diced
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
a few sprigs fresh thyme and/or a bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Basil leaves to garnish
Prepare the tomatoes. First, have a strainer handy, set over a bowl. Cut tomatoes into quarters (more if they are large) and remove the parts where the stems were attached. Running your fingers inside the segments, scoop out the seedy bits into the strainer you have set up over the bowl. Once that's done, chop the tomatoes a few times more. Keep the straining seeds off to the side.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium and add the chopped onion (or leek and shallot) and thyme/bay leaf. Sprinkle a little salt on top and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or so. Make sure not to brown the onions. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat a little, and cover. Cook this way, running at a good simmer but not boiling too hard, around 20-30 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and falling apart.
Get the tomato water ready by stirring the seeds around in the strainer to encourage the liquid to pass through. Discard the seeds; keep the tomato water.
Remove the thyme stems/bay leaf from the tomatoes (may require a little fishing). Discard.
Blend the cooked tomatoes in a blender until completely pureed. Add the tomato water and blend some more—should be velvety smooth. At the very end, mix in the cream and salt to taste. I don't like to dictate salt amounts, but I will say add enough good pinches, tasting in between, to bring the flavor up. Serve hot with basil scattered on top.
It has been many years since I originally posted my recipe for savory tart (aka slim quiche), and since then I've gotten lots of requests for a recipe for its variants, which I tend to post often on instagram. I bake these quite a bit, as they make nice use of random greens that accumulate in our refrigerator after overly optimistic greenmarket runs. They're a great way to use up radish tops and carrot tops that would otherwise get composted. You can mix in other green odds and ends, such as different combinations of chard, kale, arugula, spinach—and feel good about cutting down on your food waste. Without further ado, the recipe. Please feel free to vary as you see fit—that's what it's all about. Savory Greens Tart makes 1 10-inch tart
4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups flour (all-purpose OR 1 1/4 cup all-purpose and 1/4 cup whole wheat)
1/2 tsp salt
a few tablespoons ice water
Have a 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan ready. Any shallow pie pan works, really, and you can use 9 inch (you'll just have leftover). In a food processor, combine flour and salt, then pulse in butter until it's blended in tiny, coarse chunks (pea sized). Start pulsing in the ice water a few drops at a time, until you get a shaggy mass that's just starting to pull together. Don't add too much water! Once you can press it into a ball, remove from processor and pat into a disk, then wrap in parchment or plastic and refrigerate until firm, about an hour. (*note: you can also make the dough by hand by rubbing the butter into the flour with your palms and fingertips)
Preheat oven to 400°. You'll need to blind bake the tart shell. Let the dough come to room temperature for 15 or so minutes, then roll out into a uniform, thin sheet, somewhere between 1/16" and 1/8" thick. Nestle dough over and into the tart pan, pressing gently into corners and against sides. Trim excess with kitchen scissors OR, my preferred trick, roll a rolling pin over the top to lop of the excess. Press against the sides one more time. Prick bottom all over with the tines of a fork, then refrigerate some more (20 minutes or so) until dough firms up a bit. Press together any dough leftovers and use for a smaller tart, or for patching any cracks in the baked tart.
Remove tart mold from fridge and press a sheet of foil on top of dough. Fill with some sort of weight, like dried beans, uncooked rice, or even pennies. Bake in the oven 15-20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and bake another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Cool the shell and save, wrapped, for a day or so—or freeze for future use.
Greens and feta tart
2 TBS butter or olive oil
4 scallions, entire whites and green parts (except for roots), sliced thin
Equivalent of 1 large bunch of greens, washed and patted dry. I like to use a mix of radish tops, chard, spinach, kale, arugula, etc. in whatever amounts I have. Keep in mind these cook way down, so what seems like a lot becomes next to nothing!
optional: 1/4 cup dill and/or parsley
sea salt & pepper
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, heaped high
Preheat oven to 350°. Chop greens into 1/2" slices, including all but the toughest stems (if you're using kale). Chard stems are quite tender once cooked. Put a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add olive oil or butter to pan and melt, then add scallions. Saute for a few minutes, then add your greens and sprinkle some salt over them. Saute, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and have released their liquid. Add dill if you're using, and saute a couple more minutes. Once greens are uniformly wilted, their stems are softened, and liquid is mostly gone, they're ready. Taste and add salt and pepper if they need it.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, and 1/2 tsp. salt for a few minutes, til blended. Set aside. Take out the pre-baked tart shell and put it on a baking sheet. Patch any cracks that may have formed using a bit of leftover dough. Arrange greens in the tart shell, then scatter feta evenly over them. Carefully drizzle the egg mixture over the greens until they are almost, but not quite, covered. You do not want the mixture to go right up to the top, or else it will expand and overflow during cooking. Put tray in the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or when custard no longer jiggles in the center. Check it after 20 minutes, turn, and continue cooking/checking every 5 minutes or so. Some like it just barely set, some prefer it toasty on top. Cool for a few minutes before serving.