Early October, and the fields are beginning to show it. Colors have started to turn from green to shades of yellow and golden brown, leaves are drying, and corn stalks look as if ready to crumble under the hands of a giant. And yet, we have been enjoying summer temperatures. I’m not kidding you! This week we’ve been enjoying temperatures of 26 and 27°C, high 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit. But this being Indiana, things could change from one minute to the next. And I’m not going to take chances: yesterday I harvested all of my basil. Most of the other herbs will survive the winter inside the house. But I know I can make use of the basil right now and enjoy it all winter long. Most of it will be put into pesto sauce, which will be frozen in portions and stacked in the freezer. Some of it will go into a favorite soup, tomato basil soup.
My sister Susana’s favorite soup when she was a child was tomato soup. Susana liked soups —I didn’t. You know soups didn’t grow on me until much later in life, and then, they were there to stay.
For the most part, soups in Spain are, well, soupy. I mean, the main component in them, their most marked characteristic, is their liquid base, and you eat them with a spoon, on what we call a plato hondo, a deep dish, or soup dish, slightly smaller than a dinner plate, and a bit deeper. Bowls for soup are something I got used to using in north America. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that American soups are more chunky, they account for an entrée, and one feels quite satisfied with a bowl of soup and a piece of crusty bread. In Spain, at least growing up, soup was considered a primer plato, first course, before you had your segundo plato, second course, the entrée. Therefore, soups there were lighter. I’m speaking in the past, because trends have crossed borders, even oceans, so things might have changed.
But back to today’s soup, tomato basil soup. This recipe is fantastic, my favorite. It calls for tons of basil and tons of onion. Lots of tomatoes, too, of course! I like to mix two kinds of tomatoes, roasted roma tomatoes drizzled in olive oil, and canned tomatoes as well. Yes, canned tomatoes! Whole canned tomatoes stretch the yield of the soup, and mixed with all the other delicious ingredients, and particularly with the juices released by the roasted roma tomatoes, make for a spectacular soup. It’s light enough that you can have it as a first course, a primer plato, or as a light lunch, if accompanied by crusty fresh bread. I’m sure once you try this recipe, you won’t go back to any other.
TOMATO BASIL SOUP
Sopa de Tomate y Albahaca
3 lbs roma tomatoes
3 medium onions
1 head garlic
2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 cups fresh basil
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
6 cups chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Wash and cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Chop the onions and peel and mince the garlic cloves.
Line an oven tray with parchment paper and spread the tomato halves in one single layer, cut side up. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and the whole peppercorns, and drizzle with about half of the olive oil. Bring the tray to the oven and roast for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a stock pot at medium heat and sauté the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until the onion becomes translucent but not brown.
Add the canned tomatoes, chopped basil and thyme to the stockpot and stir. Add the chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes with their juices and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer for about 35-40 minutes.
Using a hand held immersion blender, purée the soup. You can also pass it through a food mill, particularly if you included the roasted tomatoes with their skins.
Serve with slices of fresh crusty bread, and sprinkled with freshly ground pepper.