Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tomato Season: The Twilight Days

If tomato soup were an article of my wardrobe, it would be like a ratty T-shirt from college that I keep only for sentimental value.  Tomato soup held a special place in my life in my early twenties, particularly when I lived off of a college meal plan.  Tomato soup--the generic Campbell's kind straight from a number 10 can with a side of grilled cheese--was one of the most consistent and reliable meals offered at the cafeteria.  Even after I moved out of the dorms, canned tomato soup was in heavy rotation during my undergrad years.  And, then I forgot about, figuratively shoved it to the back of the closet.

But October tomatoes got me thinking about tomato soup again because these are exactly the type of tomatoes that need to be simmered slowly because fall tomatoes are ugly.  They crack and wrinkle.  Their bottoms get soggy, and their shoulders stay green.  These aren't the gorgeous slicers of August. October tomatoes are not trendy now at the farmers market by any means.  In the local food scheme of things, they should be shoved aside this time of year for butternut squash and sage and hearty fall brassicas like brussel sprouts and cabbage.  Yet my 24 tomato plants keep on slowly producing fruit, too little to justify canning but too many for straight eating, and I can't bear to euthanize them before the first killing frost.  By now, though, the tomatoes are cantankerous geriatrics, they have all the intense wisdom of the taste of a tomato, but they've lost the beauty of youth with its firm, unblemished wrinkle free skin and firm, hard bodies.  These are soup tomatoes.

I took 8 lbs. of ugly, cracked tomatoes and made a lovely simple soup, and I realize I've come a long way since my Campbell soup days, just as these tomato plants have come a long way since May.  And, I'm still not willing to throw out any memorabilia, ratty or otherwise.

Simple Tomato Soup

This recipe calls for Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base, but feel free to substitute your favorite bouillon or even straight table salt. I like Better than Bouillon because it doesn't contain any MSG, and it's cheaper than buying straight vegetable stock.  It yields a quality flavor, and it lasts indefinitely in the refrigerator.  In my dream world, bouillon concentrate wouldn't be necessary because I'd have a troop of Ommpa Loompa kitchen helpers (but without that whole indentured servant thing) that would make stock for me from scratch while I slept at night.  But I don't feel too guilty because many of the upscale kitchens I've worked at over the years have "cheated" with commercial soup bases from time to time.  Here, the bouillon actually works to boost flavor without diluting the tomato essence like a straight vegetable stock would.

8 lbs of geratric tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 t. dried oregano (or more to taste)
1 t. dried basil (or more to taste)
1 t. Better than Bullion Vegetable Base

To peel tomatoes, in batches of two or three, blanch in boiling water until skins loosen (about 30 seconds), and then plunge in cold water.  After this, skins should slip right off.  To seed, cut tomatoes around their equator and squeeze seeds out into a fine mesh strainer, reserving the liquid for the soup pot.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute onion until translucent.

Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, and Better than Bullion, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked down.

Puree with immersion blender for a smooth soup or leave chunky for a more rustic style.

Makes One Big Pot of Soup (ample for several days of lunches)

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