04 January, 2010

Roasted Tomato Soup: A Sure Cure For The Chills

The weather here over the past few days has been dismal: Temperatures in the teens, 20-mile-an-hour-or better winds, nearly constant light snow drifting into every sidewalk crack and alcove - not much accumulation, thanks to all the wind, but plenty of watery eyes, frozen achy fingers, and shivery discomfort.

The best cure for all of this - besides, perhaps, a Caribbean vacation - is soup. Long-simmered, homemade soup that warms the kitchen as it cooks, and the body and soul when it's eaten. One of my family's cold-weather favorites is this tomato soup, made from fresh tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, roasted to caramelize them slightly, and then simmered into a smooth delicious elixir that is just so far beyond anything you can find in that little red-and-white can from the supermarket.

The problem is, in the winter, good tomatoes can be hard to come by. Luckily, there are a couple solutions to this. You can buy the delicious Sunset brand tomatoes offered in supermarkets by Mastronardi. Or, if your local supermarket has a produce markdown area, check for "gourmet" fresh tomatoes that have gone somewhat past their prime and are being sold at a reduced price. Slightly overripe - even dark red tomatoes which have gone soft and have a few spots on them - aren't always pretty, and they may not have the best texture for slicing onto sandwiches or cutting into salad, but believe me they are perfect for sauces, soups, and recipes.

My recipe is similar to one I watched Gordon Ramsay make one day on the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares. I like mine better because it has a more robust flavor, but you can check out his if you like here, at TimesOnline.

Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as a meal.

¼ cup olive oil
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 onions, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
½ pound carrots, peeled and cut
3 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and slapped under the flat of the knife
Thyme leaves to taste
2 tsp sugar
4 or 5 basil leaves
6 cups chicken stock
3 or 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and minced fine
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tsp good Hungarian paprika

Pour olive oil into a roasting pan. Put in the tomatoes and vegetables. Toss them to coat with the oil, then sprinkle with a bit of thyme, and season with salt, pepper, and sugar. Run the pan under the broiler in your oven until caramelized, stirring once or twice. This can take upwards of 20 minutes to half an hour.

Pour the roasted veggies and tomatoes into a saucepan and throw away herb twigs and stems if you used fresh rather than dired herbs. Add the stock and bring up to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, add the sund-dried tomatoes, and simmer for another 30 minutes (or longer if you like, there's never any hurry to making soup.)

Strain the simmered soup through a china cap and press the vegetables through the sieve to remove skins and strings and other unpleasant surprises. Stir the soup to combine the veggie pulp and stock. Taste and adjust the seasonings if required, bring the soup back up to serving temperature, and serve.

Delicious with warm crusty bread.

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