Monday, March 9, 2009

A Discussion of Soups.....

A friend of mine was disheartened to learn that Campbell's Tomato Soup, a favorite since childhood was full of corn syrup. So upset that he Twittered it.  Of course a ton of us responded with well, of course it is - tomato soup isn't sweet...and several of us responded with recipes for a homemade version. I sent a Tuscan version that I loved - found it online somewhere and have been using it for a couple of years now:

2lbs tomatoes – use plum in the winter when the seasonal ones aren’t available (I've even used canned San Marzano tomatoes in a pinch)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (you will need more for serving)

2 large cloves of garlic – minced

6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves shredded for garnish (to taste)

3 cups of stale Italian bread cubed. (if you don’t’ have stale bread – which I always do, we don’t eat it fast enough – toast some in the oven until dry and hard)


Blanch the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute.  Transfer to a bowl of ice water.  When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and discard skins. Cut cross wise and seed with your thumb.  Place the tomatoes and seed in a sieve and drain.  Scrape the seeds against the sieve to extract as much of the juice as possible.


Heat oil in a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat – add garlic and sauté until just fragrant – don’t let it brown! Add tomatoes and juices and the bread. Sauté until the bread has softened – should take a few minutes.  Add stock, heat until boiling, then reduce to a simmer until the bread breaks down and the soup is thick.  You may have to use a hand blender to smooth it all the way out.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Ladle into bowls and add basil and drizzle with olive oil. 


This got me looking at soups - I want to avoid the processed stuff as much as possible and besides, for the most part, canned soup is awful. To me, any weather is soup weather, but when it gets warmer, I look to lighter soups - a good thing too, because the weather here is starting to lighten up. I'm letting the kitties back out on the porch, which makes them happy as clams. 





This past Saturday, I decided to make a lighter version of minestrone soup that I found in Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food (If you don't own it, You won't be sorry).  It's not that heavy gloppy soup that minestrone's often become; she had recipes for every season and because it was a warm day I chose the lighter option.  It is such a simple and soothing soup.  Yes, it took some work, chopping the veggies to a similar size, but the outcome was well worth it.  




Alice Waters' Minestrone Soup


I c. Cannellini beans (Alice, being Alice recommended fresh which had to be soaked overnight and cooked separately - I didn't have any, and so I used canned organic - worked just fine)

1/4 c. olive oil (don't skimp here, it's critical to the richness and the lightness of the soup)

1 large onion finely chopped

2 carrots peeled and finely chopped (I also threw in a good sized parsnip too)

2 celery stalks, diced.

4 garlic cloves coarsely chopped

5 thyme sprigs (leave whole)

1 bay leaf

2 tsp of salt (again, don't skimp here)

3 cups of water (because I added extra veggies, I used 3 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of vegetable stock - you may need more - use your eyes to gauge it)

1 small leek diced (I had a medium/large leek and love leek, so I used it)

2 medium zucchini (I used a milder form of zucchini - I'm not a fan of the green zucchini)

2 medium tomatoes peeled seeded and chopped (I used the equivalent of grape tomatoes which I sliced - no peeling or seeding)

2 cups spinach coarsely chopped (left this out, too - the cupboard was bare!)



Heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion, carrots, celery - cook for 15 minutes until tender - don't be tempted to do this over higher heat to speed up the process, you want to really sweat the vegetables.


Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and salt and cook for another five minutes.  Then add the stock/water and bring to a boil - I added the 3 cups and realized I needed more, so added about 1 1/2 cups of water.  When the liquid is boiling, add the leeks.  Cook for five minutes, then add the zucchini and the tomato. Taste for salt.


Drain the beans  and rinse if you are using canned then add to the soup.   I also cooked about a cup of whole wheat pasta separately and added that too.  Simmer for another 10-15 minutes.  Add a ladle or two of the pasta water if you need more liquid. 


Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some freshly grated parmesan cheese over top.