Monday, May 07, 2007

Better Tomato Soup

Let me be very clear. When I say "better" tomato soup, I am comparing the tomato soup I'm about to discuss with my previous attempts at tomato soup. I am not comparing my tomato soup to the recipe that I appropriated and changed. You can find that recipe here. I originally came across it here. I had been having my own tomato soup struggles, and I emailed the author, who very kindly pointed me to the recipe, which, he says, he modified from a recipe by Pierre Franey. M. Franey may in turn have modified someone else's recipe, since that, after all, is how most recipes evolve, but I can't really say.

I have no doubt that M. Portifex' recipe results in a splendid soup, and I would gladly use it as an excuse to buy myself a Chinois were it not clear that doing so would result in a domestic dispute. As it is, I am living on borrowed time while V. is out of the country. When he returns and finds that I haven't come up with a suitable location in the cupboard for my cast iron Dutch oven, well, it's best that I don't think too much about how that sentence really ends. Even without a Chinois in my overburdened cupboards, I would likely follow M. Portifex' basic process (with my inferior strainer) if I were going to serve this soup at a dinner party.

But this soup is going to be for my lunches (many of them, as it happens), and given that I don't mind tiny bits of peel, I didn't need a strainer at all. Other modifications included the use of canned, rather than fresh, tomatoes (I can't find decent fresh plum tomatoes at this time of year), the substitution of bouillon cubes for canned bouillon (because I forgot to buy boxed chicken stop when I was at Costco), the omission of a bay leaf and the Calvados(I just forgot and I don't have any, respectively), and the addition of some corn (because when I went to taste it, my first thought was that it needed some corn).

Horrid, horrid compromise that this soup is, however, it's also very good. In fact, I may have found the lunchbox soup that I want. The recipe is so simple that I'm tempted not to try to improve it. (I probably will remember the bay leaf next time, though.) It does not meet my stated goal of being as good cold as it is hot, but I reckon one can't have everything, and there is very little of the year during which I don't appreciate hot soup.

Again, this is a soup that takes a significant amount of time but requires only minimal effort and supervision.

Tomato Soup

2 large Vidalia onions
2 T. olive oil
2 large Granny Smith apples
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 quart water
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 t. dried thyme
2 cups frozen corn

Remove the ends and outermost peel of the onions. Chop them coarsely.

Put a large, heavy stockpot on the stove, over a low flame. Add the olive oil. Add the onions, stir well, and cover the pot. The onions will need to cook for about twenty minutes, or until they are nice and soft but not browned.

While the onions are softening, rinse, quarter, and core the apples. Do not remove the peel.

Add the apples, tomatoes, water, bouillon cubes and thyme to the onions. Stir well, bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about two hours. Add the corn and simmer for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

There are a couple of ways to finish the soup. If you want the corn to stay whole, then you can puree the soup -- before you add the corn -- with an immersion blender. It does a fine job on the onions and apples, especially after all that cooking time.

If you want a fully pureed soup, the immersion blender alone will not suffice since it will leave large bits of the corn kernels in pieces of just the right size to get stuck in your teeth. A regular blender, however, will do a fine job. I used both types of blender: the immersion blender before the addition of the corn, and the countertop blender at the end of cooking.

Because of all that pureed vegetable matter and the relatively small amount of water, this recipe gives a very thick soup. If you want it thinner, add more water and bouillon, which will also increase your yield.

I used cheap yellow frozen corn, and that works fine for flavor. It seems to me that using white corn might give a slightly better color, but I think that I am picking nits with that suggestion.

You should, of course, taste carefully and adjust the seasoning as necessary, but my batch came out perfectly seasoned without any further tinkering.

As always, feel free to futz with the recipe as you see fit. I'm sure it would be delicious with the addition of some ground chile and cumin. Or with some nice cornmeal-and-cheddar dumplings on top. Some celery seed added at the beginning of the simmer would also probably be a good thing.


Anonymous lindy said...

You know, I do subscribe to the theory that tools should be limited, and multiuse. I've got to say, however, that I have never ever regretted the ridiculous day 10 tears ago or more, when I succumbed to impulse, and bought a chinois. And would you ever love one.

It makes everything ruined refined again, gets the lumps out of gravy, is fabulous for jelly and preserve making, soups, purees of fibrous things. and it has a stand, so you can leave it on its own, no tipping.

It is, however, the storage challenge of the millenium. the 3 parts on mine-unweildy chinois, stand, and wooden pusher thing, are strored in separate places in the kitchen.

But really, you'd love one.

6:10 AM  

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