Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cream of tomato soup

This tomato soup is one of only two recipes that I have ever found useful from the great, classic Joy of Cooking, otherwise the most overrated cookbook I have ever owned, I am sorry to say; the other useful recipe is one for challah, the Jewish sabbath bread, a dense brioche which in fact goes beautifully with this soup. The Joy is more for entertainment purposes than for practical use, I think. Being introduced there to galantine of turkey, clambakes, or real turtle soup was lots of fun, but that West African Beef Stew still rankles as a disaster from our early married years, and the Angel Cookies -- plain meringue affairs for whose sake, the authors insisted, "many a copy of the Joy has been sold" -- were a tasteless mess.

But I mustn't be shrill. This soup is very fine.

It begins with with a few onions slowly cooked in half a stick of butter. While they soften, in a second large pot bring 6 cups of water to a boil, with two or three potatoes peeled and cut up in the pot. A splash of white wine added to the stewing onions, just when they are beginning to caramelize, will provide a zing of flavor.

Add the onions to the potatoes when they have come to the boil. Gently simmer the onion, potato, and water mixture for 30 minutes. Then, add a can of stewed tomatoes, a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar, some thyme, paprika, and a few fresh basil leaves. Bring all this back to a boil and simmer it gently for 20 minutes.

Now comes the tedious part. The soup must be put through a blender in batches, and poured into a separate clean pot. (Remove the basil first, or its flavor, shredded, will be too strong.) When it is all blended smooth, put a cup of heavy cream into the empty, original potato-boiling pot. Scald the cream. Then, begin ladling the pureed soup into the hot cream.

Once you have gotten a few ladlefuls of soup into the cream, you can simply pour the rest in.

Reheat it thoroughly, and you are ready to serve. It only requires, to make it perfect, a grinding of fresh pepper in each bowl.

This is obviously a rich soup which really only needs a green salad or that challah to go with it. When I am feeling ambitious, however, I have also served grilled cheese sandwiches alongside, or, as I did tonight, double-baked potatoes (baked potatoes with their insides scooped out, mashed with butter, milk, and grated cheese, and then piled back into the shells and baked again for 20 minutes in a 425 oven, to heat them through and brown them a little).

A rich chardonnay would be the right wine with this, I think. If you have a few Godiva chocolate truffles left from your birthday shopping spree last week, by all means have them for dessert. If the day has been astonishingly warm, and robins are chirruping in the dusk, and people are out-of-doors, talking, and the actual smell of a barbecue wafts in from the neighbor's backyard, reminding you deliciously of summer, why then -- not all, but many things are right with the world.

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