When I bought a few pounds of our super-concentrated, extra flavorful local dry-farmed tomatoes at the farmers market last weekend, I had intended to make some authentic creamy Andalusian gazpacho (to contrast it with the chunky style so prevalent in America). I waited all week for the perfect warm sunny day when a refreshing cold soup would be most appreciated.
It never came. I finally threw in the towel after being reminded by Fatemeh of Gastonomie (also in the Bay Area) how delectable (and utterly simple) hot tomato soup can be. And, on a cold, foggy San Francisco day, nothing could be more satisfying.
Sadly, like so many things I do, I neglected to plan ahead (just look at the time of this post). It was nearly dinner time, so I had to go with what was on hand.
No cream. Darn, I liked the sound of Fatemeh's cream of tomato soup! It brought back a flood of childhood memories for me. Whenever I was sick, my liberated convenience-food loving mom opened one of Andy Warhol's iconic cans of Campbell's and a package of those little hexagonal oyster crackers. She always accompanied it with a grilled cheese sandwich (sadly, made with American cheese and margarine...I now shudder at the thought).
Back to my fridge. I found one lonely ear of corn. It still tasted sugary sweet, which would help to balance out the tartness of the tomatoes.
Herbs? The only herb on hand was basil. A couple of farms at our market conveniently sell bouquets of basil with the roots still attached, so when you get home and put it in a vase full of water it thrives for about 2-3 weeks. It's convenient and I, such a city boy, get to play the farmer (pitiful, no?). I stripped the leaves from the stems, puréed the leaves and used the stems to flavor the soup.
So, together with one of my famous caesar salads (you can't survive as a cook in this town if you can't toss together a decent caesar), some tender sautéed rainbow chard from my favorite Zen farm, and a hunk of fresh, crusty bread still warm from our bakery's oven, I was able to improvise a quick summer vegetarian menu for two.
Click "continue" to see how easy it is to make this soup!
Tomato and Corn Soup with Basil
3 lbs. tomatoes, preferably dry-farmed
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ear corn
few branches of basil
4 T pure olive oil
Bring a pot of water to boil. Using a small paring knife, core the tomatoes (i.e. remove a little conical piece and any leaves from the top of the tomato). Cut a small, shallow X on the bottom of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Remove and let cool. Peel (discard the peel). Cut tomatoes into chunks. Keep the boiling pot of water, because you'll need it again later.
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, sweat the onions in the extra virgin olive oil and butter for 5 minutes until starting to turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook 5-10 more minutes, until onions are meltingly soft, but with no color. If onions start to color at any point, add a splash of water and reduce heat.
Add tomatoes and about 1 cup water, season with salt to taste (nearly 1 teaspoon), cover and stew for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, cut corn from the cob. Blanch the corn kernels in the boiling water for about 30-60 seconds, until crisp tender (al dente). Set aside for later use.
Strip leaves from the basil branches. Put stems into the pot with the tomatoes (if yours have roots, cut them off first and discard). Put the leaves in a wire strainer and dip into the boiling water for a few seconds, then run them under cold water. This will preserve the green color. In a blender, purée the blanched leaves with the pure olive oil. Remove and set aside in a bowl.*
When soup is cooked to your liking, remove the basil stems (and discard) and purée the tomato mixture in blender until smooth.
I recommend taking one extra step for a velvety soup. Strain soup through a course wire strainer to remove the seeds that didn't purée and any skin. See picture at right to see what was left behind in the strainer! You don't want that in your soup now, do you?
Put puréed soup back in soup pot, bring to a boil and add corn kernels. Taste for seasoning. Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of the basil purée and a drizzle of some of the basil oil. And lots of crusty bread to sop up every last drop!
* To make basil oil, put any remaining basil purée and its oil in a cheesecloth lined fine strainer and allow to slowly drip into a container. Now you have a few tablespoons of basil oil to flavor pastas, salads, or just about anything you can think of. Will keep for about a week.