Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tomato Soup

There really wasn't any reason for me to cook last night. Dinner had already been made (not by me) and eaten, and I had the next day's lunch all ready in the refrigerator. And V. and I are off on a short vacation Wednesday morning, so I didn't need anything for the rest of the week. But I felt like cooking something, and I had the time to do so.

I haven't really had anything resembling free time for the last two months, but busy season was pretty much wrapped up late last Friday afternoon. When I got up Saturday and didn't have anything that absolutely had to be done, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the prospect, so I went back to sleep, and then I got up and took a long walk, and then I did nothing at all for most of the day until it was time to pick up the kids. I may have watched some TV, and I may have read something (I know that nobody keeps such close track on what I say here, but on the off chance that somebody does, whatever I was reading was not Villette. I finally finished Villette sometime late in March or early in April. It was almost -- or just over -- three months of hard work, but I persevered.), and I'm pretty sure that I wandered aimlessly around Costco for a bit, but mostly I got in touch with my inner vegetable. (My inner vegetable, in case you're wondering, is a fava bean.)

Anyway. I felt like cooking last night, but I wanted to cook something slow and lazy, rather than something quick and technical. Tomato soup seemed like the ticket. This is a very easy recipe, and it requires very little attention, but it does take some time. It is perfect for a weekday evening when you have a couple of hours and are doing other low-intensity tasks such as laundry (Laundry is a low-intensity task for me because of my strict no-ironing policy. I am highly tolerant of wrinkles. I attempt to remove my shirts from the dryer and hang them up while they are still slightly damp so that fewer wrinkles will have a chance to form, but once they're there, I just live with them.) and reading a highly amusing book that doesn't mind if you have to set it down from time to time. I am sure that you have just such a book in mind already, but if you don't, you might try this one. I picked it up on a whim in Border's over the weekend, and I can assure you that if you put it down to go and stir your soup, it will be just as funny when you get back. Plus, I read it in just over a day, which, I think, means that it's at least 90 times better than Villette.

Anyway, the soup. I had started off with the intention of making a soup that fell squarely within the Weight Watchers Core parameters, but, alas, I didn't quite get there. (If you are, by chance, on Core, then one serving of this soup [a fifth of the pot] will cost you one extra point. If you're not on Core, then a serving will cost you four points.) When I tasted the soup, it was much too tangy, even for me, and I had to add some half-and-half to tame it a bit. The final result is probably somewhat too tangy for most people (I like it this way, though, and I am, after all, the one who's eating it), but you can make it less tangy in a variety of ways. You could, for example, double the butter and onions and cook them for an extra hour, to let them caramelize. Or you could add more half-and-half or swap out the half-and-half for heavy cream. You could use sweeter tomatoes, assuming you can find some. Or you could just add half as many tomatoes to begin with. I like the tomatoeyness of this soup as it is, though. There are other, less honorable ways to make the soup less tangy, but I won't mention them as I don't approve of them, and you probably know what they are, anyway.

Tomato-Onion Soup with Dill

1 T. butter
2.5 c. sliced onions
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. celery seed
2 T. flour
1 quart chicken stock or broth
28 oz. tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. chopped dillweed
1/3 c. half and half
1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 t. baking powder
2 T. finely chopped dillweed
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 ounce romano cheese, grated fine
fresh black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 egg

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions, stir well, cover, and cook over low heat for half an hour, stirring once or twice. Add the salt and celery seed, stir, re-cover, and cook for another half hour. Turn the heat to medium, sprinkle on the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for two to three minutes. Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring all the while. Stir in the tomato puree, bay leaf, and 1/4 cup of dill. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally for half an hour. Remove the bay leaf, puree the soup with an immersion blender, and correct seasoning. Let the soup simmer while you make the dumplings.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, finely chopped dill, salt, grated cheese, and black pepper. Mix well with a fork, then add the olive oil and stir well again. Form a well in the middle of the mixture, and break the egg into the center. Mix the egg well with the fork, then stir in the cornmeal mixture. When you've got it all mixed up, you should have a mass that coheres reasonably well and that can be handled but is still slightly sticky. Knead this mass slightly, either on a marble, or between your hands, and then roll it out into a cylinder about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into about fifteen pieces, and roll each piece into a small ball.

Drop the dumplings into the simmering soup, cover, and cook for five minutes.

Because there is no wheat flour in these dumplings, they are somewhat crumbly and fall apart easily if you mess with them too much. No matter: they taste good whole or in pieces.

There are a lot of other ways you could go with this soup. You could use basil instead of dill, for example. You could use cheddar instead of romano. You could add some chopped black olives to the dumplings. You could skip the dumplings entirely and instead toss in pieces of a grilled cheese sandwich that you'd cut up. In any case, it's a very comforting thing to consume when the weather's unseasonably cold, as it has been this week.


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