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Recipe: End-of-Summer Tomato Soup
Shoulder season soup
Autumn is beautiful, especially here in New England, but it’s not something I ever look forward to, since it represents everything I love coming to a close for the year. I abhor cold weather, and I miss the sun desperately when it flees for so long. If I had to live in just one season of the year, it would be the turn from spring into summer, when everything is green and golden and ripe with potential, and the days are at their lengthiest.
There is one tiny thing I appreciate about the flip toward the darker and colder months: the brief overlap between chilly weather and the fruits of summer’s abundance. While I hate the cold itself, I am of course down with cold-weather foods like hot soup. And this is the one time of year you can make a delicious, bone-warming meal from the products of summer’s abundance. Like tomatoes.
I’ve been making this one a lot recently. It’s super simple: all you need do is cut up the tomatoes (ripe ones of any sort will do), toss them with oil and salt, and roast them briefly to concentrate their flavor and drive off some of their excess moisture. You then add them to a pot, along with a lot of olive-oil-sautéed onions (their sweetness serving temper the tomatoes acidity), garlic, and a couple of anchovies and a small amount of MSG (both of which are optional but are here to crank up the overall tomato-ness of the soup). To this you add a few hunks of stale bread, along with enough water to just cover everything, and a couple of basil sprigs. You then simmer it just long enough for the bread to soften up, after which you remove the basil and blitz the soup smooth in a blender or with a hand blender. Add a couple of knobs of butter along with as much extra water as you like to thin the soup to your liking, and it’s good to go. (Preferably alongside a gooey grilled cheese sandwich or at least a slab of fresh-baked focaccia.)
It’s so easy to do that it hardly needs a recipe, but I have written one up for you in case you need guidance on amounts and timings.
End-Of-Summer Tomato Soup
Serves 6 to 8
This recipe works best with summer tomatoes, but it can be made at other times of the year using two 28oz cans of plum tomatoes in their place. (Skip the roasting step and add the contents of the cans at the beginning of step 3.)
The optional anchovies and MSG serve to enhance the underlying umami flavor of the tomatoes and should not be noticeable otherwise.
The amount of water you’ll need to add to the soup in steps 2 and 3 depends upon the juiciness of your tomatoes and the age of your bread.
2.5kg (about 5 pounds) fresh tomatoes of any kind, cored and cut into 2-inch chunks or quarters
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 yellow, white, or sweet onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional)
150g stale bread, preferably from a sourdough or rustic loaf, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 sprigs fresh basil, plus 10 leaves, julienned, for serving
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
Set an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400˚F. Place the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to brown at their edges and most of the liquid has cooked off, 50 to 60 minutes.
Place the onions, remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and baking soda in a large Dutch oven and cook over medium high heat, stirring regularly, until the onions are softened and beginning to break down, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, anchovies (if using), and MSG (if using) and cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, 30 seconds.
Add the roasted tomatoes and their juices to the pot, followed by the bread, basil sprigs, and just enough water to cover the contents of the pot completely. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread pieces have fully softened, 10 to 20 minutes.
Remove the basil sprigs. Using a blender or an immersion blender, process the soup until completely smooth, 30 seconds to 2 minutes. (For an extra-velvety soup, pass it through a fine-mesh strainer.) Return the soup to the pot along with water as needed to produce the desired consistency. Add the butter and stir until fully incorporated. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Heat over medium-low heat until hot and serve, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of basil leaves as a garnish. (And some nice bread or a grilled cheese sandwich.)