Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fresh Tomato Soup, When Simple Becomes Complex

I'm not handy.

I'm not one of these guys who, on a Saturday, buzzes over to Home Depot, spends a couple hundred dollars, comes home and whips up a 4-bed/3-bath gazebo with a peeing cherub fountain. Whenever I go over to Home Depot I spend most of my time vacantly roaming the aisles, slack-jawed and confused by all the tools, claps and vices.

If I do take on a project there are a few Crabby truisms that you can count on. One, it will take twice as long as the average person to complete. Two, I'll have to make three times the number of trips to the store just to finally come up with the right parts. Three, it will ultimately cost four times more than if I had just paid someone to do it in the first place. And four, I'll have at least five injuries to show for my efforts. For me, its not do-it-yourself, it's do-it-to-yourself.

All that changes when I walk into the kitchen. There, I'm very comfortable; in there I'm Master of my Domain; in there I control the events and the outcomes. Well, usually. Occasionally, the Crabby Gravy Train derails, from time to time the vegetables don't get pureed, I do. Every once in a while that simple little recipe turns ridiculously complex; not hard exactly, just "involved".

Today's recipe is that day.

Fresh Tomato Soup is about taking the extra time and effort to get it right. I've skipped the blanch, peel and seed step before only to be greeted by a vapid soup later. If you try to shortcut this recipe, you'll be sorry. You'll be making an extra trip to the market for more fruit and it'll take three times too long. Trust Crabby on this one, no shortcuts. Don't count on a food mill to save your soup. Do it right the first time.

Fresh Tomato Soup
by Crabby, based on the Italian classic Pappa al Pomodoro

1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 TBSP olive oil
5 pounds ripe fresh tomatoes ("seconds" work just fine)
Salt & White Pepper
5 oz. stale bread
Chicken Stock (up to 14 oz. - more on that later)
10 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Grated Parmesan (optional)
Creme Fraiche (optional)
Olive Oil for serving (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. With a serrated knife, cut a shallow "X" into the bottom of each tomato. Working in batches of 4 - 6 each, blanch the tomatoes until the skins start to peel, approximately 30 - 45 seconds per batch.

Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and allow them to cool slightly. The skins should now peel away very easily. Warning: This is a messy job, so do it over a large bowl so as to collect any juices. Discard the peeled skins.

Quarter the tomatoes, remove the stem core and seeds.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat, add the onions and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Turn down heat to medium-low. Add the tomatoes and any collected juices, to the onion/garlic mixture along with a big pinch of salt and some white pepper to taste. Cook for 15 minutes.

Tear the stale bread into small pieces and add to the soup in stages. The bread will absorb the excess juice and give the soup a "rustic" consistency. Using a stick(hand) blender, puree the soup. At this point a
dd chicken stock to adjust the consistency. Depending on your preference, you may add as little as a quarter cup of stock for thicker soup, to the entire 14 ounces for a thinner result.

Serve with any combination of the following ingredients (or none of them for that matter): shredded basil leaves, a dollop of creme fraiche, grated Parmesan cheese or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Note: If you want a seed free soup, run the blanched, peeled and mostly seeded tomatoes through a food mill prior to cooking.

Whew! I know, kind of fussy for a bowl of soup, but the result has all the tastes of summer. Just don't take any shortcuts and you'll be OK. Until next time crablings, remember, follow the recipe and you can do it, you can cook.


Anonymous said...

Wine rarely enhances a soup, the liquid vs. liquid thing or the hot vs. cold thing. However a chilled dry sherry with a chilled soup or room temperature dry sherry with a hot soup is about the best you can do. I have seen Europeans take a sip of the sherry with the first sip of soup, then dump the rest of the sherry into the bowl.


JillyB said...

I'm always on the look out for good soup recipes so have filed this one away! Thanks Crabby.