Roasted tomato and garlic soup.

I have to warn you, I may start waxing sentimental over fall during the next few weeks. I love this time of year — early fall — when I can still get tomatoes and corn but pears, squash, and figs are also in market.  The stress of the holidays hasn’t kicked in, an evening walk is comfortable in a long sleeve shirt, and the windows can be left open all night to enjoy the chilly breeze.  It’s the specific time of year when seeing a pumpkin on someone’s steps isn’t just another pumpkin and when thoughts of ghouls and wicked witches are delightfully wholesome.

The leaves start to turn—but aren’t taking over the yard—and the idea of spending the weekend snuggling on the couch with my fiance seems just right.  And then there’s soup.  Soup shines in fall; I’m not conflicted about it, like I can be with summer soups.  Roasted tomato and garlic soup, in particular, is  suited to early fall, when roasted garlic is wholly, utterly, in my thoughts again.  Sticky, sweet, and slyly pungent, roasted garlic will turn you on your head, and combining it with its true love, the roasted tomato, is even better.

You’ll have to act quickly to make this soup.  At least in the Northeast, tomato season is coming to a close, which is a sad, sad thing.  So sad, you know, that I think it’d be okay to make this soup with tomatoes that are a little less-than, if you don’t catch any before they are gone.  Or, as I know I will this winter, try making this with canned whole San Marazanos by just taking them out of the can and washing off the excess sauce before continuing with the recipe (you can leave the tomatoes whole, here.)

If you like tomato soup, you’ll love this one; it tastes like tomato soup should taste, not too salty like the processed varieties, nor too sweet.  The garlic adds background depth and a touch of caramel sweetness, but isn’t going to prohibit anyone from kissing strangers later in the day.  And, at least for me, this soup epitomizes the beginning of fall even more than meatloaf.  I may be a little biased, though, since this soup is also a part of my livelihood.  I’ve started a little project, the Stockton Soup Lady.  I’m selling soups about town and this is one of my favorites.  Homemade Soups, Hand Delivered is my slogan, and I’m a wee bit proud of thinking it up.  It’s a teeny-tiny project now, and I rather like it that way: I can spend lots of time going from farm to farm, choosing my ingredients, and I don’t have to bribe friends for freezer space to store all the chicken stock I’m making.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

adapted from Gourmet

4 lb tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/3 cup heavy cream

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.

Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan and add garlic to pan. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes and garlic 1 hour, then cool in pan on a rack. Peel garlic.

Cook onion, oregano, and sugar in butter in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and stock and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then force through a sieve into cleaned pot, discarding solids. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 2 minutes.  Serves 6-8.

While we’re at it…

Let’s talk about summer soups.  Love them?  Loathe them?  Do you prefer cold and icy, like gazpacho, or do you think hot soup is the only way to slurp?  I’m torn, really: I love hot soup, and considering I put the a/c on during the summer, there’s no reason not to eat something hot.

Since tomatoes have a week or so until they reach their summer prime (gazpacho is out for now), lately my mind has been on corn.   We’ve had our fair share of corn on the cob, tossed in garlic and basil brown-butter, or saffron infused French butter, or plain with lots of sea salt and pepper.  Corn eaten off the cob (with dental floss nearby for afterward) is the ultimate summer side; it’s always messy, and wet, and fun (especially for me, since I spent years and years of my childhood in braces, corn on the cob-less).  But corn on the cob every night, no matter how much you change up the condiments, can get tedious.

So, when I was jolted back into soup-mode with zucchini basil soup last week, I got a hankering for corn soup.  Corn soup, in my experience, has always been heavy, made with cream, or whole milk—more creamed corn than corn soup.  But, like I mentioned last post, I’m in teeny bikini mode right now, with another visit out to the Hamptons very soon, and heavy cream is a definite no-go.

I opted for a simplistic version, the corn purist’s corn soup.  A dozen ears of corn go into it with a few cups of water and some salt.  Easy-peasy.  Except that cutting corn off the kernel takes some time, not to mention the husking (the annoying price you pay for fresh corn), but if you give yourself a quarter hour or so to prep, it’s no problem.  Unless your immersion blender breaks: looks as if it’s working, sounds as if it’s working, with the blade spinning around like it could lob off a steel-plated thumb, but it isn’t freaking working, not blending a damn thing, and you haven’t used a stand blender to blend soup in years and you hardly know how it works, and you picked today of all days to have not one but two pots of soup on the stove-top that need to be pureed because wouldn’t it be stress-relieving to have enough soup to last through the weekend; and you fill up the blender halfway with hot-hot corn and press puree and it promptly spits boiling liquid all over your arms and face and the ceiling and you thank the gods that you bought yourself a proper apron last week and that you didn’t choose to cook in that teeny bikini of yours and your eyes start to water and your chin crinkles up and you feel yourself start to cry, but you stop. Because Jim isn’t home and crying over your boo-boos isn’t the same when your muscle-bound fiance’s not there to wipe your tears.

Unless that happens, you should be alright.  Just make sure you put a towel over the cover of the blender and you hold it down like your life depends on it as you press the purée button.  If you’re not a stickler, you could get away with straining the blended soup once through a medium sieve, though I ran it through a food mill and then a sieve, pressing the solids dry as it passed through the sieve with the rounded back of a ladle.

On first bite, this soup makes a statement: I am corn! Corn it is, purely, like corn on the cob intensified, with no starchiness, or skins stuck in your teeth.  It’s almost too much, a bowlful of pure corn flavor just may be too, uhh… corny.  To cut the flavor, I added a flurry of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty snipping of chives.  The result, with the oniony bite and peppery kick, is perfection. I hope you get a chance to make it this weekend, before the perfect tomatoes take over, when corn is still king.

Fresh Corn Soup

adapted from Gourmet Magazine

  • corn kernels cut from 12 ears of corn
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • handful of fresh chives
  • freshly ground black pepper

Simmer corn with salt in the water, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). As each batch is puréed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan.  (Or you can pass it through a food mill, then a sieve, or through a sieve more than once, to get a flawlessy smooth soup.)

Reheat soup, stirring. If soup is too thick, thin with water.

With scissors, snip a good amount of chives into each bowl, and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.

Zucchini basil soup.

So, what have you all been doing with your zucchini lately?  Baked goods? Fritters? Maybe grilled, or roasted, or raw?  It seems there’s so much zucchini come mid-July that I quickly exhaust all my zucchini recipes by August.  After a few weeks of summer, I could go a year at least without setting my eyes on the squash.  But not this year.  This zucchini basil soup will keep zucchini in my kitchen as long as the farmers are growin’ it.

It’s fresh, creamy, with a soft but certain hit of basil.  The zucchini acts as the base (and the texture if you add julienned strips of zucchini skin) but the basil’s the star; which is a good thing, as basil here in Western NJ has been on this summer.

It seems that every farm market in town is flush with basil—spicy, sweet, verdant basil—and one market is selling theirs for 99¢ a pound, damn-near giving it away.  I just hope that everyone has the good sense to make soup.

The soup is quick to make, but plan a bit of time for your julienned zucchini skins to wilt once you set them aside in a sprinkling of salt, so that later when you have them in the soup they’ve got a good texture, and won’t turn to mush.  It would also help to have a handyman like Howard.

While being quick to make is a plus, man if I wouldn’t cook all day for this soup.  Once you sit down to a bowl, you’ll understand.  It’s immediately delicious, fresh and vegetal, creamy without any cream, and then there’s a long finish that’s full of basil and a touch of salt, a taste that clings to your tongue and reminds you of sweet grass, and garden herbs, and summer.

And I’m sure your heard me, I said creamy without any cream.  Without cream, or butter, and with a piddlin’ ¼ cup of olive oil, this decadent soup is healthy undercover.  A big added bonus for the season of bathing suits and short shorts, since hamburgers and coleslaw seem to have forgotten that I’m trying to fit back into my bikini.

Zucchini Basil Soup

serves 3-4, from Gourmet, July 2008

  • 2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves

Julienne skin (only) from half of zucchini with slicer; toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and drain in a sieve until wilted, at least 20 minutes. Coarsely chop remaining zucchini.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in a 3- to 4-quarts heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chopped zucchini and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Purée soup with basil in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Bring remaining cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and blanch julienned zucchini 1 minute. Drain in a sieve set over a bowl (use liquid to thin soup if necessary).

Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls with julienned zucchini mounded on top.