Photo by Judith Hausman
I finally found it. Thanks to food goddess Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food (Clarkson Potter, 2007), I finally have the perfect summer tomato soup recipe. After many attempts that turned out too watery, too acidic, too sweet or were thickened with tomato paste, cornstarch, flour or cream, I tried her ultra-straightforward recipe and adore it.
The first “secret” to the recipe, arguably to all her food, is lots and lots of really, really good raw material. The tomatoes don’t have to look good at all; they have to taste good—no, great. I have access to piles of misshapen, won’t-sell, heirloom beauties at Rainbeau Ridge, but you might be able to buy a 1/4 bushel direct from a farm or beg some bumpy ones from a neighbor.
Alice’s second secret is one tablespoon of white rice, cooked with two pounds of tomatoes. When the little bit of cooked rice is blended with the cooked tomatoes, it thickens up the soup just enough to give it body and emulsify it without adding any rice taste, to speak of.
Almost any tomato soup recipe will ask you to blanch and peel the tomatoes: groan. It has to be done or you’ll have annoying slivers of skin to contend with in each spoonful. So be it. While you are at it, cut out the cores and any hard bits or blemishes.
Here’s my own one change: When the peeled tomatoes have cooled some, squeeze out the seeds and juice so you have mainly pulp left. Just pick them up in your fist and give them a good squeeze. Think Aztec ritual and throbbing warrior hearts. Reserve the juice and seeds though. You’ll strain that mess into the soup pot and discard the seeds. Alice has you strain the soup after cooking but I find my method removes enough seeds and is easier than dealing with the thicker cooked soup.
Alice’s recipe then asks you to sauté a medium sliced onion (and a leek, which I omitted) in a combination of butter and olive oil and then to add two garlic cloves. After they are soft but not browned, pile in the tomato pulp and strained juice. I added a few sprigs of basil and some oregano leaves, salt and pepper, and a little fennel pollen we had lying around. (Fennel fronds or even seed will do.) Cook it all until some of liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes have fallen apart thoroughly.
Wand-blender it all, and then add a cup of water and another tablespoon of butter.
Tomato.com. No stock, no paste, no celery and carrots. So good, so summery, so easy, just like the title of the cookbook promises. Go, Alice!
We served the soup cold with chopped herbs to sprinkle at will, a bowl of Greek yogurt to garnish it and a loaf of olive bread. The soup is just as good hot and cream can be added, but then be careful not to boil the soup in re-heating. If you want to freeze it, do so before the last cup of water and/or any cream, which you can add after you defrost it. Oh, and definitely double the recipe—you’ll want more.