As we deal with the "Polar Vortex of Doom" in our part of the country, with the cold winds blowing, I start to crave something special... Is it warm spiced cider in front of a roaring fire? Hmm, sounds enticing, but no... a snugly fuzzy blanket cuddle with the boys on the sofa while watching a movie? Nice. But, also no... a tropical vacation to the pale sands of the Virgin Islands, to sip daiquiris and toast myself in the Caribbean sun. YES! YES! I mean, no - I crave...soups!
Back in the early days of exploring the internet for food recipes (I was really late to the game on this one), I discovered what would become one of my favorite food bloggers out there, Smitten Kitchen. Her recipes are direct, delicious, and deliberate, the photographs stunning, and I have never made a flop dish from her site.
The very first (or maybe second) dish I tried on SK, was her Classic Tomato Soup - Heaven. The soup itself is velvety and warming with a mellow acidity and hints of sherry, that plays well with the gruyere cheese toasts our family loves to toast up on these wintery days. We have made this recipe about a dozen times in very large batches to freeze for the deep winter, when all I want to do is hibernate and not cook.
Although there are a few more steps in making this soup than the norm, like seeding and roasting the tomatoes with brown sugar, it is well worth the process. Seriously, this is not your average tomato soup to pair with saltines. This soup would feel at home as part of a multi-course tasting dinner at a restaurant, or as a hearty cup after a snow filled afternoon. We love serving a steamy bowl with broiled cheesy toasts on the side. Mmmmmm, where's my ladle......
Note: This recipe does call for whole canned tomatoes, but I have made it before (accidentally) with chopped plum tomatoes and wasn't able to seed them. We didn't notice a true difference in texture or taste after blending (a lot).
Cream of Tomato Soup
2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups of juice reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (equaling roughly 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch of ground allspice (I typically skip this for my preferences)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or low sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream (I usually use half & half because I always have it on hand. Works out well too)
2 tablespoons dry sherry or brandy
Salt and cayenne pepper (black pepper as well in this house)
Adjust your oven rack to the upper middle position and heat to 450F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil. Using a strainer positioned over a large bowl, carefully open and seed the canned tomatoes, allowing the juices to strain into the bowl. Spread the seeded tomatoes in a single even layer on your prepared baking sheet and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all the liquid has evaporated from the pan and the tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let the tomatoes cool slightly and peel them from the foil to a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan (*I generally do the next few steps in my large pasta pot or stock pot*) until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce the heat to low and cover, cooking while stirring occasionally, until the shallots soften. About 7-10 minutes. Add flour and cook while stirring constantly, until completely combined. About 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock into the shallot mixture until combined. Add the reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes, mix well. Reduce heat to a low simmer and stir occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Pour the mixture carefully through a strainer (*I agree with the author and often skip this part, to blend right away with a hand blender*) into a medium sized bowl and rinse the saucepan. Transfer the the solids left from straining (cooked down tomatoes & shallots) to a blender and add 1 cup of the strained liquid. Blend until smooth. Place the puréed mixture and remaining strained liquids to your saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat, about 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the sherry or brandy and season with salt & cayenne. Serve immediately. Soup may be refrigerated up to 2 days in an airtight container and reheated gently, over low heat. Do not boil.