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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