Monday, September 3, 2012

Smoky (late) Summer Soup #1: Tomato Bisque

A few weeks ago, I made a luscious batch of Eggplant and Summer Vegetable Gratin for dinner, and Alex asked me, only half jokingly, if there was smoked paprika in it. No, in fact, there wasn't. But it wasn't unreasonable for him to ask, given that I'd been on a bit of a smoked paprika kick, making several batches of soup in a row that contained it.

This is one of those soups. I was already a smoked paprika convert before this. It's only been in the past year or two that I've discovered that its smokiness adds a layer of flavor and depth to vegetarian dishes. I've used it in my bacon-less version of Smoky Minestrone with parsley pesto, and it turned out to be the key in the kale and potato soup I still haven't written about yet. (I will, as soon as it gets a bit cooler out--it doesn't seem right to write about kale when it's still summer.)

A brief aside about smoked paprika. I use this brand, Safinter, in the bittersweet variety. (There's also hot and just plain sweet.) I found it for around $7 at Whole Foods. When I was in New York recently, I paid a quick visit to Kalustyan's, that spice lovers paradise, and could have bought their store brand more cheaply. (In fact, I could have even bought 5 pounds for $75, but that seemed excessive, even for me.) Next time, I'm going to Kalustyan's at the beginning of my NYC day rather than at the end because by the time I reached there, I was somewhat overstimulated and lacking in focus. I wandered the aisles in a daze and left empty handed, which seems a shame. (Several hours spent eating Indian food, wandering the Union Square Greenmarket and restraining oneself from buying a kitchen's worth of dishes at Fishs Eddy will do that to you!)

Anyway, back to the soup. I already have a standard summer tomato soup recipe. I also have a winter tomato soup recipe, though it would be sacrilege to make tomato soup with canned tomatoes in August or September, during our fleeting fresh tomato season. Still, a change of pace is always nice. And when the very first tomato I picked from the garden turned out to weigh over 2 pounds (seriously, that's one big tomato), I decided to try this version. Deborah Madison begins her introduction to the recipe by saying, "One magnificent, giant Brandywine tomato that needed to be used right away tempted me to turn it into a soup, just to see how far a one-pound tomato would go." Since my magnificent giant tomato was also a Brandywine, it seemed like fate. I added a few less impressive tomatoes to the huge one and tripled Madison's recipe so that it makes 3-4 servings, depending on what else you're eating and how hungry you are.

One brief note: Madison has you put the soup through a food mill, which I did, but I also blended it in the immersion blender first. You could probably stop there, but this soup is especially nice smooth, and the food mill removes any stray tomato seed or bits of skin.

Whether your tomatoes are massive or modest, whether they come from your garden or the market, late summer is a fine time to celebrate them in a variety of ways. And a bowl of tomato soup and some bread and cheese, make a fine supper whatever the time of year. (More soon about that bread and cheese we had with this soup--there was a special, seasonal tomato twist that made it especially fabulous.)

The soup in its chunky, pre-immersion blender, pre-food mill state.

The soup now smooth. Yum.

This one I call Still Life with Zinnias and Cookbooks!

Tomato Bisque
Adapted from Vegetarian Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen

Serves 3-4
Preparation time 45 minutes

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 large or 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika (more to taste)
3 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
2 slices of sandwich bread or 1 thick slice of bakery bread, torn or chopped into pieces
sprig of fresh basil or thyme
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream or half and half

  1. 1.Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot, add onion and garlic and cook for several minutes, until soft but not brown. Then add the paprika, tomato, torn pieces of bread, basil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 cups of water. (You can add more water if it looks too thick.) Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until the tomato has broken down.
  2. Puree the soup with an immersion blender and/or pass the soup through a food mill if you have one or stir through a fine sieve, pressing the juices out and removing the pulp. Return the soup to the stove, taste for salt, add more paprika one pinch at a time if you want more smokiness, and season with fresh pepper. Add cream or half and half last.