Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tomato Soup And 3 Ways To Thicken It…Or Not

Hi again,

Let’s just get on to the recipe talk and not mention that I’ve been a bit absent. (A BIT?!!)  Several seasons have passed and I’ve certainly done my fair share of cooking and dining, I just haven’t written about it. I’ve used Instagram for keeping up, but I’ve missed longer discussions about what’s cooking and happening. I do find myself turning away from the Food Network, though, and tuning into a lot more HGTV (especially when I need to forget about current events) and, so, I’m not promising you won’t see any deep analysis of pressing House Hunter issues or Christina and Tarek updates in future posts.

But today, there’s snow outside and it’s freezing, which calls for soup. 

When H is home I make his favorite - Tomato Soup. It’s so easy that there’s really never a reason to use the stuff in a can.*

As with so many cold weather dishes, I focus on wrangling the absolute maximum flavor from the onions, which are the base of the soup. There are several ways you can do this:
  • Cook them in oil AND a touch of butter.
  • Add a bit of salt at the beginning, so the onions release lots of moisture and basically steam until completely soft.
  • If you have it, use a pan with a domed lid. It’s so fun to see how the steam builds up under the lid and drops down to the cooking onions. Also every time you open the pot, you get a mini facial.
  • Add no additional ingredients, except the carrots, until the onions are soft, soft, SOFT.
You can make this soup with absolutely no thickener and it’s fine, but it’s obviously on the thin side. There are a few methods for thickening this or any soup to give it a bit more oomph.
  • The first way is to add flour. I add the bare minimum - 1 tablespoon to eight cups of liquid. Stir it in when the vegetables are COMPLETELY soft and cook the flour on minimum heat for 3 minutes before adding any liquid.
    These onions are completely softened
  • The second way is a trick I learned from Julia’s The Way to Cook. Add raw white rice to the soup before simmering. Cook for a good 20 to 30 minutes and when you puree it, the rice magically thickens the soup. Julia’s rule was ½ cup raw rice for 8 cups of liquid. I halve that.
  • Neither the flour nor the rice change the flavor of the soup, but the third method does (but in a good way, I think). Add a medium, peeled and chopped Yukon gold potato when you add the tomatoes and stock. One potato will definitely add body to the soup.
  • There’s one more way to slightly thicken or smoothify the soup – add some cream - either to the entire batch (1/2 cup) or just a drizzle to each serving.
A note about pureeing:
A blender is the way to get the smoothest, shiniest, prettiest soup (aside from a tamis sieve, but this is real life). Blend the soup in batches, which, admittedly, can be a pain when pureeing hot things. The easiest thing to do is to fill the blender no more than half-full, remove the center plastic part of the lid and cover that hole tightly with one of those silicone pot holders that I NEVER use as pot holders. The soup (it’s hot!) invariably spurts up to the top (no matter how little you’ve added) and hits the silicone pot holder. But it won’t escape down the sides since you have the top open AND the silicone pot holder just rinses off. Pretty genius.     

A food processor does a great pureeing job, but you won’t get quite the same silky texture as you will from a blender. But I do avoid the food processor when I’m pureeing a soup with potatoes, because of the cardinal rule of what NOT to do in a food processor – mash potatoes. They come out like glue. However, if your soup is potato-free, go for it.

Luckily, there’s one more way to deal with the soup and it’s the easiest – an immersion blender. I avoided them for the longest time, because they do the least perfect job of getting a smooth and sleek soup. But real life has intervened and, now I turn to it often, because the cleanup is superfast. It purees the soup or sauce or whatever really quickly, but it WILL have a slightly coarse texture…which you can always say was what you were after in the first place. Note: I wouldn’t make mashed potatoes with an immersion blender, because they come out gummy, but one potato in 2 quarts of liquid is fine.

My Tomato Soup (makes 8 to 10 cups)
Printable recipe here.
Before blending
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tbl. flour (See note for other thickeners at end of recipe.)
28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, diced or chopped
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I usually use Swanson’s vegetable stock)
freshly ground black pepper
optional: ½ cup cream

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat in large saucepan. Stir in onion with a big pinch of salt. When it sizzles, stir once more, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots after five minutes. Taste the onions and if they’re bland, stir in a bit more salt. Continue to cook, covered, until the onions are completely soft.

Stir in the flour, over low heat. Cook, stirring every once in awhile, for 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, stock and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat to a nice simmer. Cook for 25 minutes. If adding cream, add it 2 minutes before the end of cooking time. Puree as desired. Or drizzle a bit of cream in each bowl just before serving.

To use other thickeners:
To thicken with rice – Skip the flour and stir in a good ¼ cup of raw white rice, when adding the tomatoes. Puree using any of the methods above.

To thicken with a potato – Add one peeled, chopped Yukon gold potato when adding the tomatoes. Puree in a blender or using an immersion blender. 

*The only time I use bought tomato soup is when I follow a tip I learned decades ago from H’s mother. She added concentrated Campbell’s Tomato Soup to the top of her meatloaf. My meatloaf is my own, but I’ve been topping it with (undiluted) tomato soup forever and it’s really good. (I know it’s weird.)


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Pass the grilled cheese sandwiches and let's eat!

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
I'm so with you! Throw a little bacon in the middle and we're all set. ��

Vanda Calmeyer said...

Welcome back, we have missed you!

Sue said...

Thanks, Vanda!