And this year, there were tomatoes.
Anyone who read my blog last summer knows this was not the case a year ago. (Exhibit A: Sauce for a Sad Tomato Season) But despite scattered reports of blight in the area, my garden escaped. And under the endless weeks of hot sun and too little water, the tomatoes produced and produced again. I have 16 plants this year, 12 at the community garden and 4 at home, 8 plum tomatoes and 8 regular tomatoes of mixed varieties. I grow no cherry tomatoes because, since I don't eat raw tomatoes, there's no point. For the past few weeks, I've been using tomatoes steadily and still giving them away generously without feeling any sense of panic. I think the bulk of the production may even still be to come, as the plum tomatoes at the garden have ripened more slowly than the others. (That might be wishful thinking, but there's no shortage of tomatoes at the farmers' market either, which is reassuring.)
Yesterday, a chilly, rainy night here, I made a double batch of my standard summer tomato soup. I discovered the recipe some years ago in Cooking Light. It was in the column where someone sends in a recipe that contains a pound of butter and a pint of heavy cream and asks for a lighter version. I don't remember what the original recipe called for, in terms of fat, but I know that the lighter version is delicious, with no cream or butter in it at all. (It does contain low fat cream cheese and milk; in case you were hoping that it's both virtuous and dairy-free, it's not.)
This was my second batch of soup this season. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of entertaining my British cousin Mim, her husband Tim and their kids (who are named not Jim and Kim but rather Dan and Ros). They were here for lunch, and I wanted to make something kid-friendly that also used ample amounts of local produce. The menu I ended up with included this tomato soup, eggplant Parmesan and blueberry crumble bars. It is true that Ros consumed a large plate of blueberry crumble bars, ending up with blueberry on her nose and eyebrow, but I was even more pleased by how much Dan loved the soup, which he called "super" and complimented multiple times as he worked his way through his bowl. I was even more touched last week when I got an email from Mim--they're back home in London now--saying that Dan was interested in learning to cook, and for his first attempt, he wanted to make tomato soup and could I send the recipe. I'm not sure praise comes higher than that!
A few notes: If you have a food mill, this is the time to use it. (I have an old Foley one from my grandmother's house, and it is one of my favorite kitchen utensils, up there with my immersion blender.) Using a food mill means that you don't have to worry about peeling and seeding the tomatoes ahead of time. With sauce, I rarely peel and seed tomatoes, whether or not it's going through the food mill. But with soup, texture seems more of an issue--I'd rather not be spitting out bits of skin and seed from each sip. I also take the extra step of adding the basil after it's gone through the food mill and then using the immersion blender to chop it up, so that the soup will have bits of basil in it. (Not much basil is left, once it goes through the food mill.) It's an extra step, but since the soup is so easy to make, it seems worth it. The original recipe calls for 4 ounces--half a package--of 1/3-less-fat cream cheese. I've used less than that, and it still tastes good, so you can go lower if you'd like, though the original amount isn't excessive, by any means.
One last note--I discovered last year that this soup is also an excellent candidate for freezing. I've already frozen part of yesterday's large pot (without the milk--I'll add that once I defrost it), and I plan to freeze more. (I usually make a double batch since the recipe is easily multiplied.) This soup is a pleasure when the sun is hot and the days are long. It's even more so once fall or, especially, winter has arrived. And while I now have a dependable winter tomato soup recipe, I'm still partial to the summer version. What could be nicer than a bowl of soup that hearkens back to August days when the zinnias are in full bloom and the tomatoes bountiful and blight-free?
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2000
- 4 cups chopped tomatoes (about 4 large), peeled and seeded if you're not going to use a food mill
- 4 cups tomato juice (I use whatever I can find, sometimes Campbell's, sometimes organic from Whole Foods. I usually don't use low-sodium juice, but you can.)
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2-4 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
- Basil leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
Bring tomatoes and juice to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes.
If the tomatoes haven't been peeled and seeded, run tomato mixture through a food mill to get rid of skins and seeds. Return to pot, add basil, and use an immersion blender to process until smooth. (Obviously, you can do this in a regular blender or food processor as well; but in my role as an immersion blender evangelist, I'll say that it's much easier to do it right in the pot with the immersion blender, rather than transferring hot (red) liquid back and forth.) Add softened cream cheese, whisking for several minutes. Then add milk, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat until thick (about 5 minutes). Ladle soup into individual bowls; garnish with sliced basil, if desired.
NOTE: Refrigerate remaining soup in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The soup can also be frozen. I freeze it after I've added the cream cheese but before I've added the milk. You can also freeze just the tomato/juice combo and add both dairy products once it's defrosted. Just make a note to yourself about what you have or haven't included.