Tomato Soup, with secret ingredient revealed

Have I mentioned that I love soup? I mean, I LOVE soup.

Why? In most cases, it’s relatively easy to make. Often quick too, with any time-consuming aspect almost always turning out to be the prepping of vegetables – rinsing, peeling, chopping, maybe rinsing again. Sometimes it’s great for using up leftovers. And a simple way to pack in all those “colors of the rainbow” in foods that we’re told aid us in providing adequate nutrition for our bodies. Soup is comfort food, good for the soul (however you might define that word, whether mystical or creative or both). Hot soup warms the innards; cold soup makes a hot, humid summer day seem less oppressive.

So I was going to visit my Aunt Pat earlier this week (see KC post of November 25, 2011, if you missed it, to learn a little about her), and I’d promised to bring soup for lunch again. She was providing the sandwich filling. I would stop for a good bread and a variety of potential toppings for the soup.

Uncle Doug, in naval uniform

There was a purpose to this visit this time around, aside from the usual checking in with a special relative. I would be interviewing her about Uncle Doug, her deceased husband, one of my mother’s older brothers, for a short write-up about his service during World War 2. My husband has nominated him to be honored at an Albany County “Honor a Vet” ceremony (a monthly event), and the “bio” is a prerequisite to scheduling him for one of the slots this summer. Given the fact that my uncle served on the USS Intrepid during a good part of his wartime experience, Bill thought he was an excellent candidate for this. Anyone who spent WW2 time on the Intrepid – known as “indestructible” since the aircraft carrier survived five kamikaze attacks – did a tough stint.

Uncle Doug & Aunt Pat, 1961

I remember that, as kids, all of the cousins loved it when Uncle Doug would pull out his Intrepid “souvenirs” to show us. Since my immediate family lived in a flat across the hall from Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug, we felt privileged to be able to peruse his “logbook” from the ship (no, not like the captain’s logbook!). It was like thumbing through a high school yearbook, examining all the pictures, except that this was serious stuff. These men had helped to “save the Free World” and many of the men in those photos hadn’t survived to enjoy the victory. They’d died for us. Of course, our chests would puff out with pride because our uncle – the soft-spoken, everyday guy across the hall who loved to fish and sometimes hung out at Leo’s Tavern – was there, and he lived to tell about it. Except, like many a war veteran, he didn’t talk about it much, not even with his wife. Still, he’d point out where he stood in a formal photograph of the crew; and then he might pull out the huge silk Japanese flag he’d brought home, with its gigantic red rising sun, and allow us to run our fingers over its smooth surface.

In the early 1990s, when our daughter Kristen was a student at School of Visual Arts in New York City, we made a point of touring the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on a weekend while visiting her. Our kids too had perused Uncle Doug’s Intrepid book by then, and Kris was definitely gung-ho about making it to the museum. It was awesome for my mother, Bill, Kristen and me to be walking the same deck that Uncle Doug must’ve trod thousands of times, to see where he would’ve eaten and slept, to imagine what life must’ve been like in those crowded quarters for sailors in mortal danger on a daily basis. I felt bad that Aunt Pat had never been able to get to NYC to see it (she still hasn’t – and it’s a lot of walking, so I’m not sure she could at this point). I felt proud that my uncle had been a crew member on the Intrepid.

Kristen & Mom (Dolly) on deck at the Intrepid Museum

Since she and Uncle Doug never had any children, Aunt Pat has passed on many of those “souvenirs” to nieces and nephews. Originally, I had the Intrepid’s “logbook” but I gave it to my brother George’s son, Matt, who is a history professor at a local community college (in fact, he focused on military history in college, having taken many of his undergraduate credits, and I think his Master’s, at Oxford, Kings College, in the UK). Aunt Pat gave Matt a few other wartime items as well. During our interview, I learned that cousin Doug got the Rising Sun flag. It’s like the disbursement of goods after the war’s over with – however, our generation didn’t bring about the victory; we merely inherited the great gifts hard-won by generations before us: years of freedom, ever hopeful for a brighter future.

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Maybe I should call this Victory Soup, or Intrepid Soup. Intrepid after all, does claim amongst its synonyms (according to Rodale’s The Synonym Finder) the words bold, undaunted, dashing, audacious, daring. It’s #1 synonym is fearless, and I could say I had to put aside fear as I experimented with this batch of tomato soup. For one thing, I’d promised soup, hadn’t made it ahead and frozen any, and then we were away for most of the weekend. I hadn’t checked cabinets for supplies beforehand and, when we returned home on Sunday night, I was too tired to cook anything anyway. I waited until morning to decide what to do….

Not lots of fresh veggies in the fridge. An inspection of the appropriate drawer, however, revealed three skinny carrots, lots of onions, about half a bunch of celery, and several vegetables that didn’t interest me for this project (actually a couple of the latter found their way into the garbage, a little overdue for trashing). On the counter in the garlic keeper, I found I still had garlic. No boxed chicken stock though. I nixed the beef and went for the vegetable stock. OK, the basics to start a soup – what next?

I thought I’d make pumpkin soup, minus the hollowed-out pumpkins used as bowls (see December 12, 2011 KC blogpost). Several cans of organic pumpkin stared down at me from the top shelf of the cabinet. Unfortunately, checking another shelf for the one sweet potato I knew was there, safely ensconced in a paper bag, I decided it wasn’t in great shape (it too met the garbage). I like texture in my soup, which sweet potato supplies, plus it adds a nice flavor twist. No sweet potato – no pumpkin soup.

My next thought was, I could stop at that terrific little café next to the Spectrum Theater, not far from Aunt Pat’s, and buy some soup. Well, nope. I’m just vain enough to want to bring my aunt homemade stuff, my homemade not a restaurant’s, no matter how good theirs might be. Then I thought, Ah, how about semi-homemade, like Sandra-What’s-Her-Name on Food Network? I noted that I had a couple cans of Wolfgang Puck’s organic tomato basil soup, purchased recently on sale, so I grabbed them, placing them on the counter.

Carrots, onions, celery, garlic. Butter and olive oil to sauté them in. Hmm, I grabbed 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes, plus a larger box of Italian-import tomatoes (diced also) I’d bought on a whim. I hadn’t made tomato soup in a while and now I was getting excited. Sea salt, fresh ground pepper, a bit of dried basil. Oh yeah—the fresh parsley in that drawer was still good-to-go! How about a touch of nutmeg? I was on a roll.

I opened the refrigerator door again, pulled open the drawer to the right of the vegetable drawer, where I usually store fruit. Tomatoes are fruit, despite having been labeled otherwise by governments, markets and more over the years. Voilà! Grape tomatoes! And one lonely, beautiful blood orange. Somewhere in my brain a few sparks were flying – I knew I’d seen recipes that combined tomatoes and oranges before, especially in soups. Yup the secret ingredient! Orange, plus I’d roast the cherry tomatoes and add them after the basic soup was puréed.

Would Aunt Pat like this soup? I knew she liked tomato soup (usually out of a can), so I was counting on it. With time constraints (it was about 7 a.m. and I was expected by 1 p.m. – and it wasn’t just the soup that had to get done), I didn’t bother writing down ingredients or how I prepared it. That wasn’t all I didn’t bother with—or forgot to do. Later, I brought along my camera to take pictures but forgot all about it as we chatted and slurped away (pictures with this post come from the portion I kept at home for Bill and me to finish off – which we did, deliciously!).

I don’t feel at all guilty when I tell you that the bold-tasting, yummy soup recipe below constitutes, in a few instances, an approximation of what went into Marilyn the Soup Lady’s latest creation. That’s the way soup happens, in my opinion. You’ll go your own way, as Fleetwood Mac might say – do what you will with this recipe. Oh – you’ll probably have noticed that I didn’t wind up using the canned soup. Ol’ Wolfgang is back up on the shelf, ready for a semi-homemade day some other time.

By the way, both Aunt Pat and I enjoyed two helpings, along with olive-oil-and-rosemary bread slathered with the egg salad she’d prepared.

AUDACIOUS TOMATO-WITH-BLOOD-ORANGE SOUP
Yields from 12 to 16 servings, depending upon size of servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, skins removed, diced
  • 3 carrots (only 2 if they’re large and thick), peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, ribs pared off, diced
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, skins removed, diced almost to a mince
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable stock or broth (chicken stock will do just as well)
  • 55-60 ounces of canned or boxed (not fresh), diced tomatoes, low or no-salt added
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (can substitute with 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
  • zest of one blood orange (any other kind of orange would also work)
  • juice of ½ of one blood orange (eat the other half! it’s sweeter than most oranges; if can’t find blood oranges, use any kind of orange)
  • grape tomatoes, halved (I had about 18-20 of them; use more if you like)
  • a pinch or two of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (optional – and I think I even used a pinch of ground cardamom too!)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek yogurt; croutons or other crunchy topping (I had tortilla strips) for contrasting texture

Process:

  1. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven).
  2. Sauté onion, carrot and celery for about 3 minutes, salting and peppering lightly when first added to pot.
  3. Add the garlic to the onion mixture. Sauté for an additional minute or so, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  4. Add a cup of the vegetable broth and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes, including all juice from the can or box. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, when all the vegetables should be thoroughly cooked and tender.
  6. While the tomato mixture simmers, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (400 if your oven runs cooler).
  7. Spread the halved grape tomatoes out on a small, low-rimmed pan. Sprinkle or mist them with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with some of the dried parsley and sea salt.
  8. Roast the tomatoes for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they soften and perhaps begin to brown a bit in places (I turn them over once, shifting them around). Remove and set aside on a trivet or wire rack when done.
  9. Once tomato mixture has sufficiently simmered, stir in the orange zest and juice, basil, and parsley.
  10. Using an immersion blender (the easiest method), food processor or standard blender, purée the mixture to the texture you prefer (I like it to actually have some texture, not be totally smooth).
  11. If the soup is too “soupy” for your taste at this point, simply simmer it for a while longer. If thicker than you’d like it, carefully stir in more vegetable broth, a little at a time; simmer for a another 10 minutes or so just to blend the flavor in.
  12. Add the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  13. Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cardamom, if using.
  14. Salt and pepper, to taste.
  15. Scoop into bowls and add optional toppings, if you desire them.

I was tempted to add some light cream to the soup, but the flavors were so perfect it seemed almost sacrilegious to think of it. As mentioned above, my aunt and I indulged in two helpings each. And we tried it with both crème fraische and sour cream. Delectable and comforting both ways!

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For Potato Lovers Who Also Love Soup: Potato/Leek Soup with Chicken

In early January, I received a notice from a blog to which I subscribe, which is authored by a young woman who moved to the Netherlands from her homeland of the Philippines for good reason: she married a Dutchman. Malou Prestado’s site includes not only recipes but also insights into everyday life in her adopted country, as well as an occasional glimpse into the culture of her birth. It’s called Going Dutch, and Loving It. Her 11/4/12 post provided me with an idea for possibly enhancing a soup I’d already made a few times.

Malou’s post began with, “For yesterday’s dinner, I have [sic] to raid the fridge because I didn’t want to bravely confront the storm on my bike. The fridge revealed the following: potatoes, leeks and carrots (leftover from the bag of carrots I used for the carrot cake I made for the hubby on his birthday). I happened to still have one chicken breast as well and there was still crème fraîche.” I loved the “vision” of that culture, so European, that emerged with the phrase in line one: “on my bike.” I’d have to jump into my little Saturn Aura to drive a minimum of four miles to the closest supermarket to get decent meat. Even if I owned a bicycle of my own, the thought of all those cars on busy roads would deter any thought of biking to Hannaford (my knees wouldn’t like it either!). As for vegetables, even in summer when farmers’ markets are now plentiful around here, one has to drive several miles for good, totally fresh, local produce – and make sure to plan the schedule around which markets are going on and when they happen (my favorites are in Schenectady on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – this one even runs during winter, but indoors at Proctor’s – and a Saturday market at The Crossings town park in Colonie, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m). This is why we own not only a large refrigerator in the kitchen but also a small freezer in the garage.

I also loved that Marlou talked about what home cooks everywhere do: she “made do” with what she had on hand. I didn’t have all those ingredients in-house, but her Creamy Potato, Leeks and Carrot Soup recipe set me salivating for potato-leek soup, so I made a point to purchase what I needed next time I hit the grocery store. I’d made this soup before (and loved it), but never with chicken. Hey, it was worth a try! Adding a bit more protein to the cauldron works for me.

Besides referring to the Going Dutch version, I also went back to my penciled-in scribbles on a Potato Soup recipe (allegedly French) in my go-to cookbook about soups, Robert Ackart’s A Celebration of Soups (Doubleday & Company, 1982), a book I’ve mentioned on this blog a couple times before. When I created a potato-leek soup from Ackart’s recipe, I made too many changes in it to list here, at least as far as ingredient amounts go; plus instead of water I used a combo of vegetable and chicken broths. I also added a few spices. This most recent concoction obviously included chicken. I didn’t have crème fraîche on hand since it’s an ingredient I buy only when needed for a specific recipe (what would I do with the leftovers?). In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to find crème fraîche in most supermarkets – if you’re looking for it, you’re better off asking at the customer service desk if they carry it because the grocery workers aren’t likely to know what you’re talking about!

Incidentally, on the witchy side (if you’re at all interested), there’s a listing in the back of A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco (Llewellyn Publications, 1994) called “Magical Correlations of Ingredients” in which it totes chicken as associated with “Health, well-being, sunrise magic.” The potato, it suggests, associates with “Folk medicine, health, grounding, earth magic.” (Makes sense: potatoes are root vegetables, ergo earth magic.) Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) cites leeks for “magical power” stating, “All foods that lend the body strength also lend extra magical power. There’s no difference between the two; there’s only the purpose for which they are used.” I guess that takes care of the basic ingredients in this dish! Oh yeah, the carrots – hold onto your (witch) hats for this one: Cunningham says that, “Prepared and eaten with the correct visualization, carrots may play a part in overcoming psychological impotency,” and further suggests one should “Cook them with parsley and caraway for the best results.” And here I thought that they were merely good for the eyes, beta carotene and all that…

Magical possibilities aside, I just happen to love potatoes – prepared almost any which-way. I was most likely primed by my mother’s mashed potatoes, a side dish she made at least twice a week every week of my childhood. They were so melt-in-the-mouth good that my cousin Mary even asked for – and got – a large bowl of them at her wedding reception! Isn’t that enough to acquire a lifelong addiction to a vegetable?

So here’s my most recent rendition of potato-leek soup, with chicken added this time. Make it as written or, as I do, tweak it to your personal taste! And thank you, Malou, for the inspiration to try it with chicken – it’s delicious!

POTATO/LEEK/CHICKEN SOUP
Yield: about 18 cups of soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 full chicken breast, cut into bite-sizes
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch rounds
  • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, chopped (If leaves are still attached and they’re healthy-looking, use them too; I also pare off most of the ribbing on the stalks)
  • 4 or 5 medium-sized leeks, rinsed and chopped, white part only (This time making it, I only had 3 medium leeks and so added a couple teaspoons of dried, diced shallot purchased in October when we visited Salem, Massachusetts – I’d never encountered dried shallot before!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth plus 4 cups chicken broth, preferably sodium-free (or use any combo that adds up to 8 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 to 10 medium potatoes (perhaps 4 or 6 pounds), peeled and diced into approximately 1 inch or slightly smaller chunks
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley (or ¼ cup dried parsley)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3 small bay leaves (or 2 large)
  • sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons, or up to ¼ cup, heavy cream or light cream (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter (optional)
  • Sea Salt or Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Ground Pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche (optional)
  • More parsley for decoration (optional)

Process

  1. In a large soup kettle, heat the butter and oil together.
  2. Add the chicken and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through.
  3. Remove chicken from pan and set aside, preferably in the refrigerator since it may be some time before re-added to the pan.
  4. Add carrots, celery and leeks to pot, sautéing them in remaining butter/oil (add a bit more oil if not enough left after removing chicken) – about 3 minutes.
  5. Add chopped garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute.
  6. Pour the broth(s) and water into the vegetables mixture.
  7. Add potatoes to pot.
  8. Add parsley, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme.
  9. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.
  10. Remove bay leaves.
  11. At this point, I generally remove about a cup of the broth-liquid, allowing that I’ll want a thick soup and preferring to add liquid after puréeing if it’s needed. It’s insurance that the soup won’t be thinner than I like it. If you prefer a not-so-thick soup, then skip this step. (Also, remember that you’ll be “thinning” it slightly with cream later on, if you choose to do so.)
  12. Whirl the mixture to a smooth texture (or semi-smooth, which is usually my preference), using either an immersion blender (easiest), food processor or blender. The latter two will take a little more time since you’ll have to do it in small batches. If you’ve used the immersion blender, you’ll purée right in the soup pan; if working with a food processor or blender, you’ll return the mixture to the same pan.
  13. Re-add the previously cooked chicken to the kettle, stirring in, and allow about 3 to 5 minutes for them to re-heat.
  14. If mixture is thicker than desired, re-add as much of the reserved broth-liquid as needed to get to preferred consistency.
  15. Stir in the cream (if using) and allow soup to continue to heat for a few minutes. (Unless I know a guest can’t do dairy products, I always add cream—it makes for a richer bowl of warm goodness.)
  16. If using the extra butter, add it to soup. (I often don’t bother – seems like plenty of butter with the sautéing.)
  17. Salt and pepper to your personal taste.
  18. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche; sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley or dried parsley (both of which are optional but do add an extra bit of flavor, besides making for a nice adornment!)

A nice side-salad goes well with this soup, or just some good bread or rolls. On the day after our initial potato soup indulgence this time around, I made sandwiches to add to the dinner fare: black forest ham encased between provolone and cheddar cheese, with sliced tomatoes, on great thick-sliced Italian bread from a local bakery – all grilled up beautifully.

“Beet-ing” the Autumn Chill

Root Vegetable Soup - Creamy but not necessarily With Cream

It didn’t take much ruminating on my part to come up with my premiere post on this new blog. It’s autumn, my favorite season. Soup season. End of the wicked heat of summer. Great root and other vegetables. And one of the best soups I’ve made in recent years is a root vegetable soup in which beets play a starring role.

Now this choice might not seem strange to many folks, at least not the beet lovers out there, but I couldn’t have imagined creating such a soup a few years ago. I hated beets, never having known any but the canned ones of my childhood (which I refused to let pass my lips). However, a few years ago I’d joined one of my writing groups in a 5-day retreat in Massachusetts and we took one day off from our personal writings to pilgrimage to Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst and to do a little strolling about Northhampton, where we indulged in lunch at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. I was enchanted by the description of a beet soup (bisque? cream soup?) on the menu and dared to order it. To my amazement, I not only loved it but wished it had been a bigger bowl! I vowed to create a soup using beets at some later date. I knew my husband Bill would go for it– he even likes the canned variety, which almost never enter our household.

Conjuring up the recipe involved my ususal researching through cookbooks and a little clicking online, to see how others have handled such creations. I was even clueless about basics, like how long does one cook a beet? Do you peel them? It all came together in the following concoction, which is especially yummy if you go for the optional light cream and a dab of sour cream (or yogurt). The bonus for me was that a photograph taken prior to prepping the vegetables wound up being the model for my sketching and painting the tile which became the centerpiece for our kitchen’s backsplash. And it’s now cropped and serving as this blog’s header pic!

Root Veggies, backsplash designed and painted by MariLyn

Don’t be frightened by the list of ingredients. It’s a little time-consuming but not difficult to make– and so worth it! I’m not going to indulge in something like Harvard Beets or any other standard beet dishes anytime soon, but this one is a winner in my book! Hope you try it. If you do, let me know how yours turned out. And feel free to innovate any way you deem delicious– that’s how cooking magic happens!

MARILYN’S CREAMY (BUT NOT NECESSARILY WITH CREAM) ROOT VEGETABLE SOUP

Ingredients 

  • Beets, peeled & diced – about 2 cups
  • Carrots, peeled & diced – about 1½ cups
  • Sweet Potato, 1 medium, peeled & diced
  • Butter (or butter substitute), softened, 1 tbsp.                     
  • White Potato (any kind) – 1 medium, peeled & diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled & diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, ridges peeled, diced (reserve any celery leaves)
  • olive or canola oil, 1 tbsp.
  • butter, 1 tsp.
  • 1 small box chicken broth (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 2 bay leaf
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • juice of  ½ lemon
  • parsley, chopped – ½ cup
  • dried thyme – ½ tsp.
  • applesauce, scant ½ cup
  • honey, ½ – 1 tsp.
  • light cream (optional) – up to ¼ cup
  • sour cream (optional) – as desired

Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place beets and carrots in a large pan and cover with water. Pour a bit of the chicken broth in (a few tablespoons). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (it will be about 25 minutes until the next addition). 

While beets/carrots simmer, place peeled, diced sweet potato in a small baking dish greased with the softened butter. Swish sweet potato chunks around dish to coat with butter. (If you like, you can sprinkle with dried parsley, sea salt and ground pepper.) Bake in 350 degree oven until fork test indicates they are done (soft) – perhaps 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and turn it off. 

Sauté onion and celery in the oil for 2 or 3 minutes (to release flavor). Add remaining chicken broth, bay leaf, sea salt and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer for about 10 minutes. 

Add diced white potatoes to beets/carrots after about 25 minutes. Continue to cook this mixture of vegetables until all three veggies are fork tender. 

Place a strainer over a large bowl. Empty the vegetable mixture into the strainer, letting the red juice drain into the bowl. Then empty the onion/celery/broth mixture into the strainer, again allowing juice to drain into the bowl. 

Remove the 2 bay leaves and toss them out. 

Remove the veggies from the strainer into a separate bowl (reserve the large pan to refill with soup mixture) and add the roasted sweet potatoes. 

Add the lemon juice to the juices already strained into the bowl. 

Mix parsley and thyme into the vegetable mixture. 

Begin to gradually add vegetable mix to the food processor, along with a little of the juice. Process on puree until it is your preferred consistency for soup (if you plan to add light cream to it, you may want a slightly less creamy texture since cream will loosen it up more), adding the applesauce and honey to one of the batches being processed. 

As each batch is processed, return it to the pan. Slowly heat the mixture, stirring occasionally. 

Once heated, the soup can be eaten as is, no cream added, or a small amount of light cream can add a bit of richness (but warm a minute more after adding cream). 

Top with sour cream or yogurt, if desired. A pretty sprig of parsley atop a drop of the white stuff is nice if you’re trying to impress company!