Monday, March 3, 2014

Homegrown Tomato Soup

It's getting close to our average last frost date of March 5, but even though Saturday was 85 degrees, on Sunday another Arctic cold front came down and plunged us back into the mid-20's last night. I'm worried about some of my plants that were starting to grow back new leaves for spring that just got frozen out there.

But now that it's cold again, it seems like a good time to let  you know what I've been doing with all those paste tomatoes I grew last summer and put into gallon-sized freezer bags in the chest freezer. I was thinking of making pasta sauce or salsa with them, but finally decided they were too good for that. I wanted to put them in something where the tomato is the star, and not something that's a condiment on something else.

So I've been making them into tomato soup, which is very simple and easy to make and wonderful comfort food on a cold day.

Like most of my "recipes" on this blog, this is not very precise. Feel free to tweak it to your own taste.

  • Tomatoes - if you don't have homegrown saved up in the freezer, canned will work
  • Chicken broth - preferably homemade from chicken bones you've also been saving up in the freezer, or vegetable broth if you're vegetarian
  • Onion and garlic
  • Butter - a little bit to cook the onion and garlic in
  • Herbs - optional, but good if you have some, especially basil
  • Heavy cream - if you want the creamy version

Thaw the tomatoes, drain off excess water, and then puree in the blender until as smooth as you can get them.

I've found it's easier to strain the puree if you simmer it a bit first. I think it makes the flesh of the tomato come off the skins more completely or something.

Strain the puree in a food mill. I went for a long time without a food mill, but since I got one for Christmas, I've used it to make tomato soup and hot sauce, and it works great. I'm sure I'll find many more uses for it in the future.

Turn the crank back and forth until you have nothing left but skins and seeds. This is also good upper-body exercise.

Next you will need to cook some onions and/or garlic in some butter until soft and caramelized. This is optional but gives the soup a nice sweetness. You can even run the cooked onions through the blender too, so your finished soup will be perfectly smooth.

Add the strained tomato puree back to the pot and simmer to thicken the soup.

While it's simmering, you add chicken broth. I'd say about an equal amount of tomato puree and chicken broth, but it's all to taste. The broth dilutes the tomato puree a bit, because otherwise it would be like trying to eat a bowl full of marinara sauce. But taste as you go and put in however much broth you want until it tastes good to you. Also add salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.

When it's as thick as you'd like it, it's time to serve. At this point you can also freeze some. This soup is easy to make, but takes some time to simmer it down, so it might be a good idea to make an extra big batch and freeze some in serving-size containers for later.

If you want your soup creamy, add some heavy cream at the last minute when you serve it. Don't add cream if you're going to freeze the soup for later, because it will curdle the cream. Also, once I tried to use half-and-half instead, and it curdled, so now I either use heavy cream, or no dairy at all. I've found that with basil and heavy cream, it comes out very similar to the tomato basil soup served at the La Madeline chain of restaurants, but better because it's with my homegrown tomatoes.

And of course you serve it with some crusty bread, or even better, a grilled cheese like in the picture! That ought to keep you warm until it's 80 degrees again in a couple of days.

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