Friday, March 21, 2008

Versatility and Ease: Tomato Bread Soup

Sometimes soup is just what I want, but I don’t want to go to a lot of trouble, nor do I want to eat the kind that comes out of (and tastes just like) a can. Lack of time, however, often sends me in another direction because making soup the way I want it made is labor intensive and I often just can’t manage it.

Enter Tomato Bread Soup. Although this uses some convenience ingredients (canned tomatoes and, in my case, some ready-made chicken broth), it has a homemade taste that belies its ease of preparation. It consists primarily of tomatoes, bread, and some broth to thin it down. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

This is a pretty versatile recipe, which could be made with vegetable broth (as the original recipe instructs) and served to vegetarians, or made with chicken broth as I did, and served to omnivores. I’d love to try it on a rainy summer evening, when I have fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, homemade chicken stock (although I used some homemade chicken broth in making it, I was forced to add some of the prepared kind as well), and leftover homemade bread. Even with the prepared ingredients, it was still an easy, comforting dinner.

The only complaint I heard was that it’s hard to justify dipping bread into something that already has bread in it. To which I say, get over it. Bread is the staff of life. I think this soup with a Caesar salad would be a fantastic soup and salad meal. Call it an American dinner with an Italian accent.

In the magazine article from which I got this recipe, they recommended drizzling really good olive oil over the top of it, and garnishing it with torn fresh basil. I happened to have half a jar of homemade pesto sauce left over from a pesto mayonnaise that was used on grilled proscuitto, provolone and arugula sandwiches the week before, so I swirled that in. Chopped black olives would be a nice garnish, as would a scattering of toasted pine nuts, or even some toasted buttered breadcrumbs, which could be made with the crust of the bread that goes into the soup.

The thing I think I love the very best about this recipe is that it’s so season-friendly. Really, you could make it any time of the year. In the winter you could make it with canned tomatoes and the chopped olive or pine nut garnish. In the spring it would be a peek at summer, using the first tender leaves you could harvest from the basil plants. In the summer on one of those occasionally cool rainy evenings, using immediate ingredients, it would sing and provide refreshment, comfort and warmth. In the fall when we sway between looking forward to cooler days and autumn cooking, and sadness over the loss of summer’s warmth and plenty, this soup could provide a compromise—use the last of the summer tomatoes, the last of the basil plucked before it gets nipped by frost, but make a warm, filling soup.

Tomato Bread Soup
from Delicious magazine, April 2008
serves 4-6 people who want something warm, bright, and versatile

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped (more to taste)
2 14oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 loaf Italian bread, crusts removed, insides torn up
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnish of choice

Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until soft, but not browning. Add tomatoes, and let cook 8-10 minutes more until tomatoes start to break down. Add broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until reduced slightly. Add bread and cook 20-25 minutes until thick. Season with salt and pepper. The consistency should be something like porridge. Add more broth if necessary.

I also found that my bread wasn’t quite stale enough, so I broke out the stick blender. A food processor or a traditional blender could also be called into service, but don’t overdo the blending—the idea is to have a thick, rustic feel to the soup.

Garnish as desired. The original recipe calls for another tablespoon or so of really good olive oil, plus half a dozen leaves of basil torn up, per bowl.


mimi said...

Looks delicious -- think it will freeze? I love to make soups and then have them for after-work dinner.

TD said...

I'm not sure how it would be after a freeze and thaw cycle. Certainly the bread couldn't get any mushier, but the tomatoes might suffer and it might be grainy. You know how tomatoes get in the fridge. It might change the texture of the tomato part. But if you try it and it works let me know!