We’re still working on finishing off our second flat (15 pounds) of fresh tomatoes that we picked up through our CSA. Yeah, we know, that’s a problem everyone would like to have. And, just the other day, we made up a quick and easy soup from some of those tomatoes. At the time, we thought that, while it would be okay, it wouldn’t really knock our socks off, so we didn’t bother doing the legwork for a post. We were wrong. So, we had to make it again to share with you.
We’ve seen, from time to time, pronouncements that people are eating less soup these days. Most of these statements seem to come from the Campbell’s soup company as a way to explain decreasing sales. Now, we don’t really follow Campbell’s sales, but, we have noticed that after such a statement, the company rolls out a new packaging idea: soup in jars, soup in cups that you can sip, soup in single-portion tubs, new labels, even placing special racks on the store shelves so the soup cans roll forward when you remove one. But, we’ve never noticed them actually try to improve the flavor of their soups. We’d think that would be the first thing that they’d try. Especially since it’s so easy to make up soups at home that are far, far, better than anything in a can.
I’m sure that growing up, you, too, had your share of condensed tomato soup. And, if you remember, it held the shape of the can until you added water. To a child, that’s probably the most exciting thing about canned tomato soup, and that was sufficient for you want to eat it. As an adult, you try it, and, if you’re like us, you say, “Wow. This is sweet! Yikes!” So, we just don’t buy canned soups anymore. Instead, we scratch them up.
Makes 3-4 bowls
Use fresh tomatoes, if possible, but not the ones from the supermarket. Those aren’t worth buying. If you can’t get good-tasting fresh tomatoes, unsalted canned tomatoes will work. The vegetables we listed are the ones we used, but think of them merely as suggestions, and use vegetables that you have on hand. Examples of vegetables we’ve used include: 4 ounces fresh mushrooms, a single dried shitake mushroom, several fresh chard leaves, 1/3 cup chopped broccoli or cauliflower, a handful of fresh peas, a diced rutabaga or kohlrabi, or any other vegetable in moderation. Of course, we don’t use all of these in a single batch of soup; instead, we find that we like it best if we limit the number of vegetables to three or four, so the flavors can shine. And, just so you know, that’s why the lemon juice is in there; it helps to brighten up the flavor of the soup. If you doubt it, taste the soup before and after you add lemon, as it can make a real difference. As a last note, we call for halved tomatoes, which we find easier to peel once they’re boiled for a minute or two.
Procedure in detail:
Sauté onions. Place a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add firm vegetables. Now, add the carrots, potatoes, green beans, or any other firm vegetables that you are using. The idea is to sauté these firm vegetables for a few minutes to seal in some of their flavor, so, once you’ve added them, continue sautéing over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes. Drop the tomato halves in, add about 2 cups of water (enough water to just about cover the tomatoes), and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil for 2-3 minutes so the skins of the tomatoes loosen, then remove from heat. Scoop the tomatoes out into a bowl, and let cool.
Peel tomatoes. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel off the skins. For the most part, the skin will just slip off, but, in a few instances, you might have to coax it off with a knife. As you peel the tomatoes, you can chop them into smaller pieces and drop them right back into the soup pot.
Simmer. Add the wine, oregano, salt, and pepper, and bring the soup to a simmer. Let simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Your soup is almost finished.
Add orzo. We like just a bit of pasta in our soup, and, normally, we toss in about 1/4 cup of orzo. This time, we saved just a bit of fresh pasta dough from the day before and cut it into small pieces to add to the soup. When you add pasta, you’ll want to bring the soup back to a boil, instead of a simmer, then add the pasta, and cook at a low boil until the pasta is tender.
Finish. Add in the lemon juice and fresh basil. Stir, taste, and, if necessary, add salt and pepper.
Serve. We dished ours up with a batch of soup crackers that we made that morning. Other good soup toppers would be croutons, or small toast rounds topped with melted cheese. Or, in a pinch, even plain is good.
We’ve made variations on this soup for years, generally using canned tomatoes, and it turns out well. Better than any canned soup we’ve had, but, until we used fresh tomatoes, it was never good enough for us to consider adding it to these posts. In our house, it was just a basic staple that we make up when we need something quick — using canned tomatoes, we can generally make up soup in about 30 minutes total — and we can’t think of anything else. But, using fresh tomatoes really added a lot of flavor. Enough that we made it two days in a row, so four stars. And a high four stars at that.