Now that I have championed the virtue of the tomato, here is your perfect opportunity to showcase it in one of it's purist forms. If you haven't had fresh tomato soup, then you sure are missing out. The stuff in the can may be acceptable if you're trapped in a blizzard (perhaps), but aside from that, it's really just a crying shame--especially considering how delicious and easy the alternative is. So check it out.
* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large chopped red onion (approximately 2 cups)
* 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
* 4 cloves garlic, minced
* 7 large tomatoes (preference: vine-ripened; the tomato is the star- so make sure the tomatoes are of the best quality!)
* 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
* 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (plus some julienned to garnish)
* 4 cups chicken stock (to get really fresh, try this)
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper
* 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* Optional: 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (heat seekers only)
* Optional: 3/4 c heavy cream or half and half (I just like to add a splash of milk to my bowl to lighten it up for the summer)
* Gather ingredients (as usual)
* Optional step: Peel the tomatoes. When I make this soup, I usually leave the skin on (so far it's just been for me, the fam, or roommates). Whenever you take such short-cuts, just call the recipe "rustic" (works like a charm). But, if you are making this for someone fancy, you may want to take the time to take the peel off (otherwise you will get little bits of peel in the soup). All you need to do is take out the stem, make an "X" with your knife on the bottom off the tomato, and drop it in some boiling water for say a minute (just enough time for the skin to start lifting off the tomato). When you fish the tomato out of the boiling water, drop it in an ice bath (this keeps it from continuing to cook). If you are a visual person, check this how to video, by clicking on this link, scroll over one arrow, and select "tomato skin removal". There are also some other really awesome videos about tomatoes at that site!
* Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
* When the oil is warm, add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender (approximately 10-15 minutes).
* Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two (you may want to reduce the heat a little if your pot is getting very hot--it's very important not to burn the garlic!)
* Stir in the next 7-8 ingredients (through sugar, or cayenne pepper if you dare).
* Bring the soup to a full boil. Then, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30-40 minutes (uncovered).
* Here is what it should look like (sorry about the picture quality):
* After this point, if you want a really "rustic" soup, go ahead and enjoy (add some cream if you wish). I like it smooth, and the easiest way to achieve that is by using an immersion blender. My dad says he uses a food processor or blender and it works just fine, but that's going to be a lot messier. The immersion blender is super easy, and definitely worth it if you like blended soups.
* So, I blended mine, added a splash of milk, and here's what I got:
Serve garnished with some fresh julienned basil. It may not look like much, but this soup is brimming with intensely fresh flavors, and it is now one of my all-time favorite soups. I promise, this recipe will exceed your tomato soup standards by far!
* Note: This recipe makes about 8-10 servings. I like having this much because it just gets tastier the longer it sits and the flavors marry (and it makes for some super simple weeknight dinners- make this on the weekend, and then serve later with some quick grilled cheeses). However, you can always half the recipe if you just want to try it out!
* Recipe adapted from Ina Garten.