Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Juggle Two Loves, or Romancing Tomato Soup

 As the owner of a busy cafĂ©, making soup is often one of the most creative and satisfying activities of my day. I have always been passionate about soup (and sauces and salads for that matter). But after two years of making two different ones, six days a week (that’s 624 soups, if my math is correct), I started to grow a bit weary, a little less “jazzed” about it. Like falling in love, time had set in and my relationship with soup was growing routine and boring. By this time I’d started a love affair with pie, which is the subject of another discussion altogether. But how could I keep my romance with soup alive? How could I fit baking into my day, while still delivering a great comfort food to my customers? I had an idea.
For Christmas I bought myself a giant stockpot – 24 quarts, to be exact.  I would make huge batches of my favorite soups and freeze a good bit of them, so I could just reheat and serve the following week. This would allow me more time with my new love, pie, and finding the perfect crust, filling, size, etc.
I believe that creativity comes from going with the flow. One of my favorite sayings is to simply “trust the process”. One day I made a huge pot of a non-creamy tomato soup. It was delicious!  I froze most of it, in one gallon Ziploc bags.  A few days later, a coconut cream pie was calling my name, and I knew in order to make the time to make it, I’d need to use a frozen soup. But I didn’t want to serve the tomato soup again so soon. That’s when the light bulb went off. The frozen bags of tomato soup could be used as a base (or foundation) for a multitude of soups! Creamy Tomato, Minestrone, Tortellini, Garden Vegetable, and Cabbage Patch, were a few that came to mind. That day I made a tortellini by adding some of the delightful little pasta packages cooked in vegetable broth and the whole thing mixed with the frozen tomato, then topped with shredded parmesan.  Here is the approximate recipe, make a batch in your biggest pot and freeze and presto! (Or should I say pesto?) Easy soup for supper!

Foundation Tomato Soup
One large onion, chopped
Half a celery bunch, chopped
Four carrots, chopped
Half of a sweet red pepper, finely chopped
Some garlic, a clove or two, or some garlic powder
Tiny can of tomato paste
Four cans of tomatoes (whatever you have in the house, or if you’re going to the store, grab a mix of pureed, chopped, and whole or whatever is on sale).
A quart of vegetable broth
1-2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper
Teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
Tablespoon red wine vinegar

SautĂ© the first five ingredients in olive oil until soft.  Add the tomato paste and cook it in with the veggies for a few minutes on medium heat. Add the tomatoes and a quart of vegetable broth. Sprinkle some Italian seasoning over it. Simmer on medium heat for at least 20 minutes. At this point, adjust your seasonings and add more veggie broth if you think it needs it.
For Creamy Tomato Soup, puree the soup and add cream, half & half, or milk (depending on your cholesterol level) and a tablespoon of butter. For minestrone, add more veggie broth in which you’ve cooked some pasta and a can of beans like kidney, garbanzo or cannellini, and any leftover vegetables you have in your fridge. Top with grated parmesan. For Cabbage Patch, cook up some ground beef, add a couple cups of beef broth and some kidney beans to the mix with some chopped cabbage and some more red pepper flakes.
Add your own twist to it and soon you’ll be in love with soup making. Try adding pesto, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, or artichokes.  Next you can try making a Chicken Vegetable soup that can morph into Chicken Noodle, Mexican Tortilla Soup, or Chicken with Wild Rice. 

I’ll be teaching a class through Karen’s Kitchen on Camano the first part of February. If you’d like to hang out with me for a couple hours and make soup, give them a call and reserve your spot! Happy Cooking!

Note: the photo isn't mine. You can find the original here, it here, along with a Tomato Soup recipe that looks amazing!

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