Perfectly Simple Creamy Tomato Soup, Plus 3 Ways to Refine Your Soup Skills
When I was a kid, I’d eat tomatoes in only two forms: ketchup and soup. It was a shame, too, because my father had a green thumb that could coax a tumbleweed to blossom. All through my childhood he kept us steadily stocked with some of the tastiest produce around, something I eventually grew to appreciate and then miss terribly. I think of his half-acre of brambly, disorganized garden sanctuary when I stumble upon a basket of heirloom tomatoes, gnarly and aromatic and so ripe the skins are practically bursting. This soup celebrates such intensity of flavor- each ingredient serves to enhance the tomato you use, fresh or canned. And there’s just enough cream to be as comforting as that canned tomato soup we’d inhale during bitter South Louisiana Januaries.
The tips that follow apply to nearly any soup, stew, or chili in which you want just a few flavors to shine.
Happy New Year, and happy eating, y’all :)
1. A simple soup needs exceptional ingredients
Which is why I go out of the way to use whole San Marzano tomatoes if I don’t have in season produce. Grown at the base of Mount Vesuvius, the San Marzano tomato develops a stronger, sweeter flavor thanks to the area’s volcanic soil. The flesh tends to be thicker, there are fewer seeds, and the canned tomatoes are packed in a rich tomato juice. All of that adds up to a soup that’s inherently luxurious from the get go.
2. A well-seasoned soup is seasoned three times
At the beginning, middle, and end. This tomato soup recipe seasons the mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot) at the beginning. This helps the vegetables release their water more quickly, allowing the flavors and sweetness of these aromatic veggies to deepen. You’ll also salt the tomatoes, creating MSG, a naturally occuring savory chemical compound that brings out rich umami flavors in the tomatoes. Finally, just before serving, you’ll be reminded to taste the final product and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and cream.
3. Add final additions to hot, not boiling soup
If you’re adding butter, cream, or soft herbs to a soup, wait for the boiling to stop before stirring in your final ingredients. Boiling soup can cause your thickening cream or butter to separate instead of emulsifying. It can also wilt the flavor and freshness out of delicate herbs.
Creamy Tomato Soup
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
48 oz (roughly 5 cups) whole San Marzano tomatoes and their juices
1 cup water
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
3" Parmesan rind (optional, but oh-my-gosh delicious)
Garnishes: soft herbs, grated parmesan, croutons, or toasted bread
1. In a heavy pot heat 1 tablespoon of butter and oil over medium heat.
2. Add onion, celery, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft and the pot has started to crackle, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, red pepper flake, a few cracks of black pepper, and oregano. Cook for no more than one or two minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add tomatoes, their juices, water, parmesan rind (if using), and a pinch of salt, and HALF of the cream. Cook at a simmer for 15 minutes over medium-low heat, breaking up the tomatoes every now and then.
5. When the soup has cooked for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the soup to stop bubbling. Stir in remaining cream and butter. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until smooth. If using a blender, work in small batches and allow soup to cool for at least 10 minutes before blending.
6. Taste the soup. Add salt, pepper, or more cream as needed. Serve hot or chilled.
Completely optional fancy-pants step: for a velvety texture, strain soup through a fine-mesh strainer, using the bowl of a ladle to push the soup through.