Wednesday, January 13, 2010

bring on the tomatoes

Years ago, when I was a very young girl, long before my mother hit the Gourmet magazines and learned how to cook, my favorite winter day treat was a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup. We would make it with a can of milk instead of water and swirl a dot of butter in the bowl letting it melt into the hot soup. The preferred accompaniment was saltine crackers topped with more butter. Yum yum. I was a salt freak from a very young age and this meal was the jackpot.

It has been a long time since I have had Campbell's tomato soup, and of course I now make my own. But when I consider making it as a winter treat I run into a dilemma. Fresh tomatoes found in the market this time of year are not worthy of anything, hard and mealy as they may be. My solution has been to come up with a soup recipe I call Winter Tomato Soup, a name which makes me snicker with skepticism, except I made it up myself. To start things off I break one of my cardinal rules and actually buy a few hard mealy tomatoes. Yes, I admit it.
If I had been lucky enough this summer to come across a batch of tomatoes in season that I could have frozen, well then, that would be a different story. But what with the tomato blight and all, well, alas.

To these sad dreary pale sorry excuses of a soup base I add lots of yummy WINTERY things like leeks and carrots and onions. So, the soup is more of a mixed vegetable puree, like a V8 as it were. The tomatoes don't do much of the talking, they are there to lend a little color and acidity. I play a lot with the seasoning of salt and pepper and add sugar to complete the balance because you really can't predict how much flavor your vegetables are going to have this time of year. Even carrots are now out of the ground and sitting in cold storage for a few months. Ok, maybe they came from Mexico or someplace, but if they are from say, Florida, they might well be covered in icicles this week, what with the temperature drop.
Tomatoes out of season will have a pronounced white center .

Winter root vegetables will bring substance and flavor to the tomato soup.
Any mix of root vegetables will work for his recipe. Roughly chop them to approximately equal size so they will cook at the same rate.

This soup does not exactly reach the nirvana heights of my early experiences with Campbell's, but my tastes have changed and I have come to appreciate this stand-in which can actually hold its own at the table. It comes together nicely and the sweet tart blend of vegetables will do the trick on a cold day. Serve with saltines if you like!

Winter Tomato Soup
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
3 cups root vegetables, roughly chopped (any combination of carrot, turnip, rutabega, parsnip)
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 teas. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 Tbs.sugar
2 cups water
1 Tbs. butter

Heat oil in a large sauce pan. Add onions and root vegetables and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper and lightly sweat the vegetables for five minutes till they just begin to soften around the edges. While the root vegetables are sweating, add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the chopped tomatoes and toss in  bowl. Allow the tomatoes to marinate in the salt for a few minutes until the juice begins to flow out.  Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring soup to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft when pierced with a knife.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes before pureeing in batches in a food processor. If you want a smoother texture, strain soup in a colander after pureeing. Return soup to a clean pot and TASTE! Adjust seasoning, add a Tbs. butter,  heat and serve.

Finish with an additional little pat of butter in each bowl if you are feeling indulgent!

I have to say I only acquired a taste for tomato soup in my later years. Don't get me wrong - I always have loved tomatoes. But for some reason, it's something I was never exposed to much as a kid. I was always a Campbell's Chicken Soup kinda girl - you remember the one with the "curly" pasta. Loved it! Never was big on the tomato soup. Didn't make much sense since I loved all things tomato. But I have developed a taste for it and now find it very satisfying.

The acidity in the soup from the tomatoes will require a wine with low tannins. I would go for a wine that is notoriously delicious with pizza - for the same reason.  My choice for this recipe would be Barbera. Barbera hails from Italy, and is the second most widely planted grape in the country, next to Sangiovese. Look to the Piedmont for the highest quality Barbera. Though, nowadays Barbera can be found in other places like Slovenia and California. I love Barbera from California! Typically, Barbera will exhibit flavors and aromas of red fruit, and may have some undertones of smoke, vanilla, or toast which come as a result of barrel ageing.

One of my favorite Barberas is the Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2007, which comes from Piedmont. Vietti makes fabulous wines in general. Antonio Galloni from The Wine Advocate calls it "one of Italy's finest values" as it retails for under $20. Smoky, clean and silky, the wine exhibits nice juicy fruit and would certainly shine next to Deb's Winter Tomato Soup!

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