Monday, November 15, 2010

Tomato Soup for the Soul

The weather is beginning its transition from thick, nearly palpable air to its frigid winds that cut like knives. It’s the kind of weather that calls for hearty soups and hot cocoa topped with homemade whipped cream. It will be my first winter here in Victoria. And from the looks of it, it may be a cold one. Despite the climate and location further south, its nearness to the coast and humidity will affect the dew point and therefore the way that it feels. The digital thermometer that so commonly comes with newer model cars may read 52°F outside, but I am pretty sure that you’ll take a step outside and wonder why you didn’t grab a heavier jacket and maybe even that wool scarf your sister got you last Christmas.

With that said, I had a hankering to make some tomato basil soup for the past week and I finally did, tonight. I got out of work later than I had hoped to, ran into a few glitches in the works and am now questioning my ability as a professional – but that’s a different entry. It was a quarter after midnight when I stepped in the door to my apartment and I already had the gears greased and fully in motion about how to go about it. I knew that I wanted to make a tomato basil soup, so I had already purchased everything that I was going to need to get cooking, literally. I don’t quite have the access or the funds to use all fresh ingredients, I have three student loan payments and a healthy serving of credit card debt, so I had to settle for some canned goods and dried herbs. The quality of canned and dried ingredients is also questionable because of said budget.

So I started with some slivered garlic sautéed just slightly in a small pat of butter. To that I added some dried herbs: basil, oregano, parsley and a bay leaf. I let the garlic infuse a little and then poured some chicken broth in the pot. The pork fried rice that I cooked earlier on my break used some broth, so there wasn’t as much as I would have liked to have had in the soup for a base and some depth. I let the flavors meld for a few minutes and then I added a can of diced tomatoes.

In stride with the ever-changing habits of consumers, the variety of canned goods has grown in the last decade. Choices of cream soups, canned vegetables, even canned meats, have evolved and nearly every label wears a recipe or offers a variety of vitamins or other important substances for healthy lifestyles. Case in point, H-E-B specifically has “canned tomatoes” on one of its signs directing consumers to an array of canned tomatoes. You may think to yourself, “And?” Well my friend, as I assume you are since you’re reading my blog, allow me to spill the tomato sauce and stain that brain of yours with the variety of canned tomatoes out there.

Let me start by saying that tomatoes are included in a vast list of culinary cuisines that require tomatoes as the base. There are soups (tomato basil), pastas (spaghetti), chili (Tex-Mex), casseroles dishes (eggplant Parmesan), rice dishes (paella),et cetera. I won’t even touch on the number of brands out there, I solely shop according to price. If its inexpensive, its in the basket. OK, so let us begin.

First off, there is the style of canned tomato. There are the whole, diced, halved, pureed, pasted, sauced, crushed, quartered and stewed kinds. Then the consumer gets into the specifics: seasoned or left alone; salt-added or no salt-added; are other ingredients added, like garlic, parsley, mushrooms, et cetera; or how they are canned, in water, oil, or other liquids. And the seasoning alone can be a tricky one. You only have a label to go by, so I say you follow your gut and go with the product that resembles its natural self as closely as possible. I go with the diced or halved variety with no salt-added, or even low-sodium, variety in water. If you follow the route that I've chosen, you can chose your spices and adjust that as you like.

To eliminate the larger pieces of tomato. I used my immersion blender to puree the soup some and create a more bisque-like texture. I don't like my soups so creamy, because I like the idea of having some texture, otherwise I feel like I should be drinking it through a straw.

In the end, I would call it a successful first attempt. It was tomato soup. Perhaps not exactly what I had envisioned when I first started thinking about the recipe, it was soup, made with tomatoes – which was the goal at hand, right? Right.

The next time I make some soup, however, I am going to purchase a nice sieve. I was chewing – though I took steps to achieve texture – on the dried herbs more than anything else. If I had a sieve I could have eliminated those pieces while retaining the texture that I wanted. If I had a variety of sieves I could even make for a creamier soup, for instances like a potato soup or even a gazpacho.

All in all, it was delicious. I shared it with a friend and even enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich made with Swiss to help mellow the acidity. Swiss is a more creamy-flavored cheese than cheddar, though cheddar would have provided a different kind of note against the tomatoes. Using an herb-butter for the grilled cheese would have also been a nice complement to the soup, but the soup was well-seasoned as it was.

I'll be trying more soups here in the near future as it continues to get colder and I begin to see less of the sun. I look forward to it.

1 comment:

  1. Soup sounds like it came out alright, been wanting to try some soups myself, but no immersion blender here! Will a food processor work? Or maybe that magic bullet type thing I got? Yeah? No?