In college, Martin and I were camp counselors for UCLA UniCamp, an organization that sends under-served youth to week-long sessions of summer camp run by student volunteers. In fact, that’s how we first met; we were in the same camp session – Martin as arts & crafts specialist and I as archery specialist. One of our (and the kids’) favorite camp meals has to be Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup day. Crispy, gooey sandwiches paired perfectly with piping hot bowls of comforting soup, complemented by a snack of celery sticks and peanut butter! Okay, so the celery and PB are optional, but on cold winter nights, we love to whip up this classic combo. While we did not succumb to the convenience of the iconic red and white can of Campbell’s, we frequently purchased the boxed soups at Trader Joes (roasted red pepper and tomato — yum!!). Recently, however, we started making our own soup, somewhat from scratch. The result is a rich, creamy (even without the cream!) soup that tastes dramatically better and the amount of additional effort is minimal.
This recipe for tomato soup is quite simple – just a few ingredients and perhaps 30 minutes of your time (maybe 40 if you’re slow at prep like I am).
1 small/medium sweet onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fresh tomato, diced
28 oz canned tomatoes (diced or whole; I used 2 14-oz cans of diced)
Dried or fresh thyme, about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon
Dried or fresh basil, about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon
Salt & pepper to taste
Yields 4-6 servings; leftovers freeze well
Step 1: Prep
Mince the garlic. Scrape into your stock pot. Move on to chopping the onions. Cry. Wipe tears from the corners of your eyes. Add to the stock pot. Drizzle in the olive oil and sautee on medium-high heat with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, dice the fresh tomato; leave the skins on.
Step 2: Sweat
No, don’t go for a run. Stir the onions and garlic frequently to keep them from burning. “Sweat” the onions; cook them until they are translucent and have lost that onion-y sharpness. This may take about 10 minutes… just be patient. When you’ve got them where you want them, add the tomatoes and let them cook until the pieces start to wilt and fall apart.
Step 3: Can Opener
Stir the tomato-onion mixture and break up the pieces a bit. Open the can(s) of tomatoes and pour them in. Wait – don’t throw away the can yet! If using a 14 oz can, fill it up with water and add to the pot (if using a 28 oz can, fill halfway instead).
Step 4: Season
Mix in the sugar and herbs. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the soup has heated through and the flavors have begun to meld. Take the pot off the heat.
Step 5: Blend
Usually I don’t like recipes that call for special tools that you’ll rarely use again, but in this particular case, I’ve been converted — immersion blenders rock. Also known by its less intriguing name of “stick blender,” this easy to clean kitchen accessory makes it easy-peasy to make smooth soups like butternut squash and creamy tomato soup without any cream. Be sure the blending end is completely submerged before pulsing or you’ll end up wearing this soup. At this stage, you can make the soup as creamy or chunky as you’d like. As you can see, I pulverized it till it was silky smooth. (Note: to get it even smoother you can strain it through a chinois if you’re feeling fancy.)
Step 6: Melt
In a frying pan, melt some butter over medium-high heat until it foams and starts to brown. Gingerly place your assembled bread-cheese-bread, rotating it a bit to pick up all the buttery goodness. Toast for a minute or two. Flip with a spatula. Watch for the perfect balance of letting the cheese completely melt and not burning the bottom slice of bread. Cut into triangles and serve with a hearty bowl of soup (Steps 1-5). Voila!