Homemade Tomato Soup

It’s a shame that I feel compelled to call this recipe “homemade,” but canned tomato soup is such a ubiquitous commodity, even to the point of becoming iconic art. Some might carp because the tomatoes used here are canned, and sure, in the best of all possible worlds, we would waltz out to our gardens, pluck a dozen luscious, slightly over-ripe plum tomatoes from our thriving vines (growing in certified organic compost, etc.), throw them together with twelve other locally-sourced, heirloom herbs and vegetables and make zuppa. I, however, don’t live in a perfect world, not even, I suspect, in the best of all possible worlds, and canned tomatoes, even store-bought, are a good product. If you have home-canned, well, of course, that’s red gold.

This recipe is quite simple, easily built upon for any number of great soups. Finely dice a small white onion; you want about a cup of root. Put a scant tablespoon or so of oil—olive oil is fine, of course, but that puts a stamp on your variants—in 2-quart pan, add the onion, and cook on a very low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. This, children, is called “sweating,” and you do not want the vegetable to brown much, if at all. To this, add two cups of good, flavorful chicken broth. Increase heat and let simmer for about fifteen minutes or so. Add 6 ounces of tomato paste, and a 14-ounce can of stewed tomatoes. I use plain tomato paste and the “classic” stewed tomatoes, which has a minimum of seasonings along with a few dried vegetables (onion, sweet pepper, and celery). You can wiggle a knife around in the can to chop the tomatoes up a bit before adding them to the pot. I do. Let this stew 10 minutes or so before serving.

Good Onion Soup

Let’s make a good onion soup. First, the onions: In stores you’re going to find four main varieties: red, yellow, white and green. I almost never cook red onions, reserving them for salads and toppings, but you’ll find me using all others liberally. A word about yellow onions, however; nowadays they are almost always sweet. Not all of them are as cloyingly sweet as the Vidalia, which has been beatified by zealous regional journalists who equate eating a Vidalia onion sandwich at the office for lunch with that of hunkering down around the `fahr’ with a mason ‘jahr’ of `shahn’ listening to the dawgs tree a coon, an experience just rife with Southern machismo, derring-do and chauvinism, but yellow onions smother the flavor of an honest onion soup.

So mince six medium-size white onions. In a large skillet, melt 1/2 cup of butter. Heat to medium and add two cloves minced garlic to brown.  Then add your onions, cook down, then add about six cups of beef stock and a cup of dried onions. Reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered (what a wonderful smell this makes, too) until the onions are soft and clear. Add salt, pepper and thyme to taste; some like rosemary. A slash of sherry at the last minute is a nice touch. Serve piping hot with good crusty bread.