[In 2019, this recipe got a little refresh and new photos.]
I don’t know about you but when I arrived at work yesterday I had both the appearance and seething demeanor of a wet cat. I don’t know what exactly the point of carrying my green flowered umbrella was, if to get utterly soaked just the same, making my way through two phone calls irked by a lingering unpleasant zoo-like scent that turned out be emanating my sopping wool pants. Yech! After work drink thing? Cancelled. Pedicure? Cancelled. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches? Oh, it was so on.
It’s funny, you know, when I talk about these “classic homey foods,” these “best childhood memory meals,” as I must confess that they’re not mine. We ate grilled cheese, but never tomato soup; we loved mac-and-cheese, but all I ever wanted was (of course) Kraft. I believe I had Campbell’s tomato soup a few times at friends’ houses, but never thought it was anything to write home about, as well as more than my share of tomato bisques at restaurants, but too often they reminded me of pasta sauces, excessive at even a cup at a time. But, with times as appropriate as this long, wet winter ahead and sources as good as, yet again, The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook, this seems as good as a time as any to start making our own, because these recipes are keepers.
This time, Cook’s Illustrated crew was searching for “a perfectly smooth soup with rich color and great tomato flavor” and I enthusiastically applaud their efforts. This soup is fantastically rich in flavor, a whole lot more than you’d expect from your typical puddle of orange. More impressive is how they coaxed that flavor from something as everyday as canned tomatoes. The roasting step brings out their boldest intent, and the caramelizing of the shallots in the butter is reminiscent of the dreamy base of French onion soup. You use nearly every part of those canned tomatoes, which I love, because why dump that liquid carted over here from San Marzano? It’s the least you owe your food miles. I’m sure tomato soups can be made with far fewer steps – and admit to tossing the directions to the wind in step three – but I doubt they’re as layered in complexity as this deceivingly simple-looking one.
Now, the grilled cheese would have been better had I followed the recipe more closely. I cut my bread class rustic white loaf too thick and spread the cheese too thin, but neither of us complained. My classic Deb grilled cheese sandwich is emmanthel or gruyere, a couple leaves of arugula, a slice of tomato, salt and pepper on bread grilled on a panini, but something as humble and unassuming as smooth tomato soup seems no place for such fancy. We had the soup and sandwiches ready just in the nick of time, as the opening scene of Lost was already rolling and OMG, I don’t want to ruin the rest. Warmed, full, dry and rested at last, it was an excellent Wednesday night.
Cream of Tomato Soup
[Note: In 2019, this recipe got a little refresh and new photos. The recipe has been simplified a bit.]
- 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Pinch ground allspice
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry (optional)
- Salt and cayenne pepper
Heat oven to 450°F. Lined rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place a strainer over a large bowl, and open first can of tomatoes into it. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Repeat with second can of tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes on roasting pan evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color (although I usually get just a hint of color, at most), about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly while you work on the rest of the soup.
Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add vegetable or chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice. Gently peel roasted tomatoes from foil and add them to the pot. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.
Off the heat, use an immersion blender to puree soup until smooth. Add cream — I often start with just 1/4 cup, adding the last 1/4 cup, if we wish, drizzled over serving bowls — warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately.
Do ahead: Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.
Classic Grilled Cheese
- 3 ounces cheese (preferably cheddar, but a combination of cheese will work too), coarsely grated (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 slices (1/2 inch-thick) from white sandwich bread (ATK likes Pepperidge Farm Toasting White)
- 2 tablespoons butter (preferably salted), melted