Summer’s high season showcases the tomato. Lush and flavorful, tomatoes hardly need any embellishment. We mostly just enjoy them sprinkled with a little salt, with herbs and fresh cheese, or tossed into a plate of green beans. This year, we’re lucky when that happens, since during yet another year of weird weather and fungal blight, as this is, most tomatoes are not their summer selves. Not even in my reliable garden that typically overflows with several varieties of cherry tomatoes. Nope.
That’s when knowing a few tomato tricks comes in handy. For this soup, I employed one of my favorites, which I typically use when canning field tomatoes, also referred to as slicing tomatoes (as opposed to heirloom tomatoes or paste tomatoes). They’re not as flavorful as other tomatoes and don’t have a fabulous texture either. If I didn’t get them from our CSA, they probably wouldn’t end up in our house. But using my method, they become a reliable base for tomato recipes all winter long.
For the soup, I macerated raw peeled and seeded tomato chunks in salt to draw out liquid and concentrate flavor (akin to brining meat). Here’s the method. I peeled the tomatoes by dunking them in boiling water for 30 seconds and transferred them to a bowl of ice water. Some people say to cut an x in the end of the tomatoes before placing them in the boiling water. Theoretically, this helps release the skin but I find that the flesh gets a little waterlogged. A little slip of the knife does the trick: off comes the skin in one go. I halved the tomatoes and, into a sieve set over a bowl, I removed the seeds and liquid, letting the liquid drain. When all of the tomatoes were de-seeded, I cleaned out the sieve and discarded the seeds. Then I roughly chopped the tomatoes, added them to the sieve, salted them well, and let the mixture drain for about 2 hours. I ended up with juicy tomato pulp that is a good base for cooking.
For the tomato soup, I simply sautéed chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat, added the tomatoes and the tomato liquid and let the mixture simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes. (If I were canning these, I would do the same except that I wouldn’t cover the pan since I’d want the puree to be reduced. For soup, I wanted to preserve the liquid. When the tomatoes were sufficiently broken down, I pureed them with a stick blender. If the result is too thick for soup, you can add vegetable stock or chicken broth, or cream. Mine was fine. I brightened it up with basil pesto and added a contrasting crunch from croutons that had been baked with some of the basil pesto, along with fresh sweet cherry tomatoes, from our garden. Hooray.