As I write this it is 71 degrees F outside, the second day in a row of “unseasonably” warm temperatures here in Virginia. By Friday we’ll be back below freezing, with flurries predicted and with wind and buckets of rain between now and then. Such are the crazy weather patterns in the Old Dominion.
My answer to this unpredictability is simple: Crema di pomodoro, or, cream of tomato soup. What’s more reliable than that? The taste of this classic soup is familiar to everyone, it doesn’t take long to make and it is appetizing, whether it’s 7 degrees outside or 70. (We don’t get many single-digit days here, but I’ve lived through plenty, first as a college student in upstate New York and then as a newspaper reporter in Detroit. Sometimes I feel like I’m still thawing out, which might be why I eat so much soup.)
In summer it’s nice to make tomato soup with fresh, ripe plum tomatoes, but in winter canned is the only way to go. I pass the tomatoes through a food mill first to get rid of the seeds. Once the soup is cooked I puree it right in the pot with an immersion blender (yes, that immersion blender). Use your favorite herb to enhance the flavor. In summer I go for the obvious choice ~ basil. In winter I like the warm scent of bay leaf.
Garnish this smooth soup with a few crumbles of bacon or pancetta croutons. You could substitute bread croutons or a swirl of cream, or even a dollop of pesto…if you wanted to be unpredictable.
Crema di Pomodoro
(copyright 2013 Domenica Marchetti)
When it comes to this classic soup, I believe that simple is best. Start with good quality canned tomatoes in their own juice rather than in heavy puree (which tastes too much like tomato paste). Sweet onions and carrots balance the tomatoes’ acidity and a splash of cream adds just enough richness. If you don’t have a food mill to puree the tomatoes, you can use tomato puree. Just be sure to use puree that tastes fresh and isn’t too thick and pasty. (However, if you do a fair amount of Italian cooking I recommend having a food mill on hand. It’s great for pureeing fresh tomatoes for sauce, while catching the seeds and skins.)
This soup MUST be accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich.
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 sweet onion, such as Vidalia, diced
2 carrots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes or diced tomatoes
1 cup beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1 whole bay leaf (in winter) or 5 shredded basil leaves (in summer)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
Optional garnishes: Crumbled cooked bacon, pancetta croutons or bread croutons
Put the olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted add the onions and carrots and toss to coat well. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the carrots are shiny and have begun to soften.
While the vegetables are cooking, puree the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the disk with the smallest holes. Discard the solids. Add the pureed tomatoes to the vegetables, along with the broth. Toss in the bay leaf (or basil). Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the head to medium-low, cover partly and let cook at a gentle simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the onions and carrots are very tender and break apart easily when pierced with a fork.
Remove the soup from the heat and remove the bay leaf, if using. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until completely smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the soup cool for about 10 minutes, then puree in a food processor or standard blender. Return the soup to the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper and with a pinch of cayenne, if you like.
Stir in the cream and reheat the soup over medium-low heat until heated through. Ladle into bowls and garnish each serving with bacon, pancetta croutons or bread croutons.