Who For Such Dainties Would Not Stoop?

When I was a child, I loved tomato soup.  It was, in fact, the archetypical American-childhood tomato soup–Campbell’s condensed, rehydrated with milk (never water), served perfectly smooth and absolutely unadulterated by additions of any kind, with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side. 

(I understand that the grilled cheese sandwiches, called “cheese toasties” in my family, were one step away from the norm in that they were usually made on caraway rye bread, rather than white [which we never had in the house], and with Colby-Jack cheese rather than American [ditto].  But I’m not talking about sandwiches, here, I’m talking about soup).

I do still sometimes long for that creamy, slightly processed, stewed-tomato flavor, but I’ve come to enjoy the sharper, more acidic flavor of real tomatoes (even when canned, the tomatoes I buy these days are more “real” than those in condensed soup), and the rough, pottagey texture of home-blended soup.  I rarely make tomato soup, but when I do, I make it that way.

Funnily enough, I almost never crave tomato soup during tomato season itself.  It’s when the weather turns cold, dreary and damp that I want it–conditioned, no doubt, by memories of childhood tomato soup lunches on snow days or after being caught in the rain.  Thus, I always make tomato soup with canned tomatoes. 

Though I scorn to peel tomatoes for almost every other application (including even those that I admit to needing it), I prefer peeled tomatoes.  And because diced canned tomatoes almost always have the skin on (indeed, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them otherwise), I use whole, peeled tomatoes, which I then puree before using.  This means that there are fewer discrete pieces of tomato in my soups, but more tomato in every bite, which I enjoy.  In my opinion, a broth–no matter how delicious–with pieces of tomato floating therein is not tomato soup.  I’m sure this is also leftover childhood conditioning.

Sunday night, I wanted tomato soup.  Teacherman and I had been out of town all weekend, and had driven 5 hours back from a warm and balmy St. Louis, to find our home city gripped by sneaky cold winds and lowering skies.  There was almost no food in the house, but when I opened up the pantry cupboard, a big can of whole, peeled tomatoes stared back at me. 

I sauteed shallots–lots of them.  I added two minced red jalapenos, three big pulverized garlic cloves and about 2 Tbsp of minced ginger.  When they began to caramelize, I added some lime zest from my frozen stash and stirred it around. 

While that became lovely and fragrant, I pureed the can of tomatoes in the food processor, then added that to the pan along with several cubes of frozen chicken stock and two Tbsp of Thai fish sauce.  I covered the pan and let it simmer for about half an hour.

At this point, it could have been done.  It was a hearty, thick soup that would have been lovely on its own–the ginger, lime and especially the fish sauce giving it an unidentifiable, but distinctly moreish depth–but we were both in need of something substantial, so I determined to add protein.  I pulled out the last carton of farmer’s market eggs and cracked six into the wide skillet, sprinkled them with salt and then let them gently poach in the tomatoey depths.

A mere five minutes later we were at the table, scooping up thick spoonfuls, some enriched with egg, some not.  Without egg, the soup was rich, but still sparkling with acidity; with egg, it mellowed until it almost resembled a sauce.  Both ways were comforting, sustaining and, most importantly, satisfying.    I wanted to wrap my arms around the bowl and huddle into it, letting the steam fog up my glasses and open my pores. 

We scraped the bowls clean, and sat at the table, content.  Tomato soup can do that to you. 

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Published in: on November 19, 2007 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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