October 3, 2006

Tomato Basil Soup

So, I come back to you today, fellow food lovers, after a seemingly long absence and what do I have to offer you? Tomato soup. Granted, it's really good tomato soup, but not exactly the show stopper you might have expected after almost 2 weeks of no posts. (And not even a garnish in sight! How lazy can you get?) Sure, I've been making my smoothies religiously, and fixing up some sandwiches for lunch, and there was this bright spot of chili making, but other than that, I've been on hiatus. I wasn't confit-ing duck legs or making my own cassoulet or canning my five bushels of tomatoes like some people I know.

It wasn't my idea, really. I've been forced out. Living with my parents again has presented a few challenges and a big one is cooking. I've realized that cooking became a passion for me because the kitchen was my space. Or rather, I made it my space. For the past 5 years now Paul and I have lived in a small apartment that didn't lend itself to privacy. Paul had his office area and I had the kitchen, I guess. It worked beautifully. But, now that I'm using my parent's larger kitchen, there is no privacy, plus I have to take into account whether they'll eat what I make or not. Feeling their suspicious eyes lurking to ensure I don't make anything too "spicy" kind of takes the fun out of it. Cooking has morphed from my Zen time of the day (where my worries are pushed aside) into a slightly stressful, "where the hell is a spatula? Do you have garlic that isn't in a jar?" type of experience. I don't mean to say I need solitude to enjoy cooking, but it helps.

They don't have a box grater. I don't like their knives. I'm not sure if real carrots are grown in this country anymore because I have yet to see anything besides those alternately dry or slimy, shaved off stumps called "baby carrots." None of my go-to basic produce or pantry items are stocked. I love my parents, but I did not get many culinary lessons from them.

One might say, "Megan, this isn't hard. Go get your items that make you happy. Carve out your little nook in the cupboard and cook as you wish!" Well, that is true. I can do that, and to some extent, I have. But, this also brings up a point I think a few of you might relate to. Being a food snob is something I don't deny. I have high expectations and I'm generally grumpy when I don't completely enjoy what I'm eating. Which isn't to say I'm picky, but I feel deeply for that wasted meal. But, when cooking for others who are not as interested in food, who don't love richly flavored food, who have odd "no onion" policies and such - or just really dig KFC - what do we do with these people? How do I cook what I want to cook without being elitist? And when did caring about what you put into your mouth become a snobby way to live? Why do I feel guilty for not using that bottled salad dressing or pre-shredded cheese?

As I was making this tomato soup today my Dad passed by the kitchen and said, "oh, you're at work!" and I thought about how usually it's exactly the opposite. It's not work, it's joy.

The secret to a great tomato soup is adding brown sugar. It cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, especially when using the canned variety. Serve with your favorite grilled cheese. I recommend a goat cheese and fresh basil combo if you're sick of cheddar.

Tomato Basil Soup

1 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp white wine
2 tsp dried basil, or 2 Tbsp fresh
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 (28-oz) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen)
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar (to taste)
1/4 cup half & half or heavy cream, optional

Sauté the onion, carrots and garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat. When the onions are tender, pour in the white wine and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the dried herbs and some salt and pepper.

Pour in the chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more brown sugar if it is too acidic. Add the fresh basil, if using. You can puree the soup in a blender at this point if you would like a smoother texture. Do it in batches; only fill the blender half full when blending hot liquids. Return the soup back to the pot.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. This soup could be simmered for hours to deepen the flavor or made the day before. Add the fresh basil and cream just before serving. Serves 4.


Genie said...

It is joy, isn't it? Thanks for the recipe -- I'm definitely going to try it out, although I might wait until this Iowa City heat wave dies down...

The Inadvertent Gardener

s'kat said...

Mmmm, I feel comforted just by reading that post! Good luck in acclimitizing... will you be getting a place of your own soon?

bcinfrance said...

It's definitely soup time, I can feel that fall chill in the air! Looks like a great recipe...I've saved it to my recipe file and will report back when I make it: