THE TOMATOES FROM MY garden slowly begin to trickle into my kitchen. Just a few barely ripe ones at first, the kind that are still a little green at the stem end. I pick them out of excitement, now they need to sit on the counter for a day or two to fully ripen. Soon they are followed by deep red fully ripe tomatoes, enough to slow roast a tray of San Marzanos until they shrink and shrivel and get the tell tale taste of raisin and intense tomato.
As happens in a good tomato year, the dam eventually breaks. The resulting flood of tomatoes into the kitchen borders on chaos. Canning, slow roasting, and conserva all surround me, it is the red of a bull fighters cape and I am being charged. Stock pots simmer, the occasional bubbles pop throwing specks of red onto the whitetiled backsplash as if it is the beginnings of a Pollack. In a low temperature oven half sheet trays of sauce dehydrate into convserva, the aroma of basil like sunshine on what is an overcast day.
There is a difference between gardening to eat fresh and gardening to preserve. When preserving sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the large quantities and the rush of putting up the bounty I forget to step back and enjoy the freshness of the season.
Even though I never doubt the value of preserving the harvest I have been in the kitchen all day with the stock pots puffing steam into my face. The rows of sterile canning jars long ago lost their quaintness.
I muster all my will and push forward. Finishing this job is more then getting all the sauce into the jars, it is cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom too, getting the place put back together when I am tired and I just want to leave all this mess for someone else.
Like most tasks though the drudgery is temporary. Knowing this, all day I have been setting aside a few perfect heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. When I am in doubt about all this preserving I look to them for fortitude. I know myself, these tomatoes are the carrot dangled in front of the horse.
I hurry to get through the last hurdle and wipe down the counter tops. I want a break. I want to drink a cup of coffee. I want to sit down. I want to contemplate the perfect tomatoes I have saved. I want to take a deep breath. I want to get down to the joy of cooking my wife’s favorite tomato soup. I want to see the smile on my daughters faces when they dip their grilled cheese sandwiches and take that first tomatoey bite.
I fill a clean pot with water and set it on the heat. I cut a shallow X into the bottom of the tomatoes. I drop a tomato into the hot water, then more, their skin blisters and I immediately scoop them up with a slotted spoon and drop them into an ice water bath to keep them from cooking any further. I slice some onion, then some bacon. I breath a deep breath, then slowly exhale.
Tomato season is over.
Tomato, Bacon, and Horseradish Soup
1/3 cup pancetta, small dice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onion, small dice
3 to 4 cups ripe garden tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and chopped with juices reserved
2 to 3 cups unsalted beef broth, homemade if you have it.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh chives and parsley, minced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- Place a 3 1/2 quart pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and butter. Without letting the butter burn, crisp the pancetta lightly.
- Add the onions, season them with salt and pepper, then gently cook them until they soften. No need to brown them.
- Add the marjoram, thyme and bay leaf along with the tomatoes, all collected juices, and the beef stock.
- Bring to a simmer. Let the soup simmer for 30 minutes so that the tomatoes lightly cook.
- Add the cream and horseradish. Simmer until hot. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in half the chives and parsley.
- Serve garnished with the remaining chives and parsley