Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I quit posting on Bookcook 8 months ago (eek), because I was dissatisfied with the site. My writing, while never meant to be any great work of art, had become perfunctory. (Apparently I’m not destined to be a food writer, because I can only think of so many words to use to describe a bowl of soup, one of which is “soupy.”) My yen to try new recipes had lulled. The Diaryland format was pretty clunky and ugly. The whole blog was user-unfriendly, what with my decision to write recipes in awkward first-person narrative format and the lack of any sort of categorization by type of recipe. I wasn’t sure anyone was even reading or trying the recipes I posted. Reader, I was bored.

Somewhere around Christmas (could it have been the three cookbooks, Cooking Light subscription, cookbook holder, kitchen timer, garlic-chile-pepper braid, and egg beater and spatula I received as gifts?) I got back into the cooking experimentation, and ever since have felt driven to try increasingly ambitious projects, record my adventures, and press my recipes upon others. I found a shiny new design at Blogspot. As I move my archives over, I’m re-editing the recipes to a simpler, more user-friendly format. I hope to eventually recommend some other good food blogs or recipe sites in my “Links” sidebar. I’d still like to figure out how I can classify my archives by type of recipe (soups, salads, pastas, etc.) instead of by date, but for now you’ll simply have to browse to find what you want. And I have a new crop of recipes to write about, beginning with this one, which I made on Sunday.

The recipe appeared in the L.A. Times Magazine, as a sidebar to a story about Siberian tomatoes. Normally I think the recipes in the L.A. Times Magazine are pretentious, fussy, and useless (OK, let’s face it, I sometimes think this about the entire magazine), so I was shocked to find one that (a) included only ingredients I’d heard of, (b) took less than an hour to make, and (c) actually sounded good. I was also pleased to find a potato soup recipe different from the ones I already have (potato-garlic, potato-leek, carrot-potato, etc.). And I was relieved to find one that didn’t call for chicken broth, because I don’t have any homemade in the freezer this week, and no chicken carcass with which to make more (yes, I suppose I could have bought some broth at the store, but what fun is that?). Best yet, the tomato and basil sounded so nice and springy, and believe it or not (you people living in the Snow Belt can feel free to hate me now; I know I would), it’s getting to be spring at the farmers’ market. Really. There’s asparagus and everything.

So, the soup: It was pretty easy, fresh-tasting, with a delicate flavor. I don’t think I actually used new potatoes (I bought tiny red ones, only to come home and read in Jack Bishop’s vegetable bible that “all new potatoes are small, but not all small potatoes are new,” and mine didn’t seem to have the thin skin he described), and I went with a normal onion because I wasn’t sure about “spring onions,” but the other ingredients were simple. I didn’t pass the soup through a food mill, because I didn’t have one, and when I started thinking about it, I wanted a smoother texture anyway, so I pureed it in a blender. I suppose the food mill (or the poor woman’s substitute, a fine sieve) would have removed the skins, but I like the little red flecks in the finished soup (and the skin is good for you). (Or, of course, you could just peel your potatoes.) Overall, in fact, it’s an intriguing-looking soup—a nice pink once you stir in the tomatoes, and then you garnish with the impressive bright-green swirl of basil puree. It looks a little like Christmas, though it tastes like summer.

Be forewarned, you might keep tasting the soup while you're cooking and thinking it seems a little..boring. Just wait until you add that basil puree--it zips up the flavor like you wouldn't believe.

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups water, divided
1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped, or 2 bunches of spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped, about 2 and 1/2 cups
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 and 1/2 pounds new potatoes, washed (or peeled, if desired) and coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped, about 1 and 3/4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small bunch basil, leaves only
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot with 2 cups water, and add the onion, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes, then add potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the rest of the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are beginning to fall apart, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute, stirring often, until juices have evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Whisk together to form a semi-smooth sauce.

3. Pass the soup through a food mill (or puree it in a blender or food processor) and return it to the pot. Stir in the tomato sauce. (If the soup looks too thick, you can thin it with a little water, milk, or cream.)

4. Puree the basil, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a food processor or blender. Garnish each serving of soup with a swirl of basil puree, plus extra salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 40 minutes

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