Monday, March 03, 2008


Even though grilled-cheese sandwiches are one of my favorite foods and the very first thing I ever learned to cook (at the tender age of four or five), I don’t have any accompanying fond early memories of tomato soup. Campbell’s cream of tomato reminds me of college, when A would insist on having it with the grilled-cheese sandwiches that were still, at the tender age of twenty, one of the only things I knew how to cook. (Other college “cooking” memories: Kraft macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, “Classic” flavor Suddenly Salad, and some sort of Lipton garlic pasta dish that came in a pouch and doesn’t seem to be in production anymore. Gack.) We’ve since graduated to the Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Tomato Soup that comes in a carton and doesn’t taste like chemicals, and we’re happy with it. It would never have occurred to me to try to make my own tomato soup, especially since every tomato-based soup I’ve ever made has tasted pretty much like…tomato sauce. Fine and all, but something I want to toss some spaghetti into, not something I want to dip sandwiches into and slurp up with a spoon.

But then I read this post at the Smitten Kitchen, about the America's Test Kitchen recipe for tomato soup, and my mouth watered. It actually sounded as though it would taste like tomato soup—but better than any tomato soup I’d eaten before. So I made it, and it wasn’t too hard, and I sat down with my grilled-cheese sandwich and took a spoonful of soup and…tomato sauce, pretty much. No competition for the Trader Joe’s boxed stuff, and ten times the effort.

But it wasn’t unpleasant, and there was nothing else to eat for lunch the next day, so I brought it to work and—pow! I could taste every layer of flavor: the sweet caramel of the brown sugar, the roasty tomatoes, the oniony shallots, the savory chicken broth, the little splash of silky cream (it really doesn’t need much), the shot of brandy. This stuff was great! I ate the rest of the leftovers over the course of the week, put the recipe in my file and made it again a few months later. Again, we sat down to eat it and—disappointment. I couldn’t understand it; had I messed up the recipe somehow? Was I misremembering how good it had been? But again, I ate the leftovers the next day, and again, I was reminded how much the flavor had deepened in just 16 hours. I know many leftovers, particularly soup, do actually taste better after sitting around for a day or two, but I’ve never noticed such a dramatic change before. I fed skeptical A leftover soup (and more grilled cheese) for dinner a few days later, and he had to admit I was right. This is an awesome, awesome soup. But from now on, I’m making it a day before I plan to eat it. Which, yes, is a little inconvenient, and pretty much relegates this to weekend meals--but take that as a testimonial of how good this soup is, that I'm willing to be so inconvenienced by it.

If you like tomato soup at all, you owe it to yourself to make it from scratch. The recipe may look a little fussy, what with roasting the tomatoes and pushing them through a sieve and all, but it’s those details that elevate this above tomato sauce and make it tomato soup. (That, and the cream, of course.) I promise, it’s not too hard. And if you don’t like it right away when you taste it, try again the next day. It’s worth the wait.

Now, if only someone could develop a grilled-cheese sandwich that improves with age...

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
1–2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

2. Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in a bowl. Set a strainer over the bowl of juice; with fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Reserve 3 cups juices total from bowl, discarding any extra. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

3. Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

4. Using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender, puree mixture until smooth. Add cream to taste and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and pepper.

Serves: 4
Time: 90 minutes

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