Jan 19, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Tomato-Basil Soup

Here's another family favorite in honor of soup month.  Cream of tomato soup strikes a chord with almost everyone. For most of us, we think of the sweet red condensed stuff that oozes out of a can of Campbell's Soup, with its distinctive red and white label. Diluted with milk and heated, it is often accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich and remains a classic pairing for a quick lunch.  What's not to love?

When I came across this recipe in a 1997 Southern Living magazine, I latched onto it and served it as the soup course for Christmas dinner that year.  It was an epiphany to realize that tomato soup could be much more elegant and interesting than the canned soup of my childhood, and yet still retain its comfort-food feel and taste.  Since then, I've seen many similar recipes crop up, and tomato-basil soup has become a staple on many restaurant menus. I've tested many of them for myself; some rise to the occasion and others fall short. Over the years I've adapted the recipe slightly (the advent of stick blenders and commercially prepared fire-roasted tomatoes are responsible for the main changes), but it remains pretty true to the original...because it's just that good.

Versatile Tomato Basil Soup

1 medium onion, diced (or 4 shallots and 1/2 pound leeks, diced)
1 celery stalk, diced
2 or 3 tablespoons diced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes (plain or Italian style), undrained
1 14.5-ounce Italian style tomatoes, undrained
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonaded (see note)
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Heat a Dutch oven; add olive oil and onion (or shallots and leeks), celery and garlic.  Saute 10-12 minutes until tender (do not brown). Add tomatoes and broth; cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and basil (only if using dried); bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for one hour.  Remove from heat; use a stick/immersion blender (or pour over into a food processor or regular blender) to puree until smooth. If serving immediately, gently reheat (do not boil) and add cream just before serving; if using fresh basil, swirl it in just before transferring to individual bowls.  Makes 6 one-cup servings.

Alternatively, the soup can be frozen (without the cream and fresh basil), for up to a month.  Thaw in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Before serving, gently heat in heavy pan (do not boil) and add cream, heating just until warmed through, swirl in fresh basil and serve.

Note:  Chiffonade is a fancy way of saying "cut into thin long strips."  Here's a link that explains how to chiffonade basil.  Now that fresh basil is available in the produce section year-round, it's a nice addition to this soup and will add a fresh, zesty flavor that dried basil cannot impart.  But if dried is all you have, you can take comfort in knowing it was the ingredient in the original recipe.

Happy soup-ing