The Best Tomato Soup In The World

garden tomatoesThe 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.

20110915-DSCF2320.jpgI 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

20140824-_TJH4836.jpg

Serves 4

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

  1. Place a 3 1/2 quart pot over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and butter.  Without letting the butter burn, crisp the pancetta lightly.
  2. Add the onions, season them with salt and pepper,  then gently cook them until they soften.  No need to brown them.
  3. Add the marjoram, thyme and bay leaf along with the tomatoes, all collected juices, and the beef stock.
  4. Bring to a simmer.  Let the soup simmer for 30 minutes so that the tomatoes lightly cook.
  5. Add the cream and horseradish.  Simmer until hot.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Stir in half the chives and parsley.
  6. Serve garnished with the remaining chives and parsley

RECIPE CARD: 3 Cheese Beef & Noodles + How To Get The Most Out Of Prep Day

I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.”  It’s not really any more work.  I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.

In the case of this casserole you could make it anytime by using cooked ground beef but if you do as suggested and make extra pot roast for a Sunday dinner then this is the perfect way to make use of it midweek.

3 Cheese Beef & Noodles (serves 6)

1 small onion, minced

12 oz. fusilli pasta

1 lb. chuck roast, cooked and shredded

1 cup Pomi brand strained tomatoes

1 ½ cups beef broth

8 slices American cheese

5 thick slices of fresh Mozzarella

1 ½ cups of Edam or Fontina Cheese

 

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and onion then cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta and onions and place it back into the pot.  Stir in the tomatoes, beef broth, and chuck roast.
  4. Dump the pasta into a large casserole.  Jiggle the casserole to spread the mix out evenly.
  5. Layer the cheese on top starting with the American, then the Edam, and follow with the mozzarella.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned and bubbly.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

RECIPE CARD: Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup

This is the Midwest and we like baked potatoes and we aren’t ashamed to say so.  Loaded baked potatoes, twice baked potatoes, simple baked potatoes, in my part of the country it is un-American not to like them.  For that matter, how good is a baked potato on those nights when they are what you crave?  Truth is we like all kinds and cooked lots of ways.  That is what is so good about this soup, it can be dressed up or kept very basic but no matter what at the dinner time it is nothing short of delicious.Potato Soup

I am not the first person to make this soup.  This one is different is because most of them  I have seen use red potatoes, flour, and a boullion cube.  I didn’t.  I use russet potatoes because they aren’t waxy like red potatoes.  They also contain lots of starch, a thickener, and enough of a thickener I can keep this soup gluten-free.  Take note, this soup could easily be made into New England Clam Chowder by adding celery, clam juice diluted with water instead of chicken stock, and by adding the clams at the same time as the half and half.  Potato leek soup is another option as is a watercress soup.  Your are only limited by your imagination.

4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked crispy, cooled, and cut

1 small yellow onion (about ½ cup)

3 or 4 medium to large russet potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, and cut into 12-inch cubes

1 TBS. flat leaf parsley, minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme

3 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

¾ cup half and had

¼ cup heavy cream

Green onion, cut into thin rounds

Cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Layer the potatoes into the bottom of the slow cooker.  Top with bacon, onion, parsley, and thyme.
  2. Pour in the stock and turn the heat to high’ put the lid in place, and set a timer for 3 hours.
  3. When the timer sounds, remove the lid and stir the soup gently.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Add half and half and the cream.  Stir and place the lid back on a cook another ½ hour.
  4. Serve with green onions and grated cheddar.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (For the Slow Cooker)

I am new to slow cookers. I bought mine with the intention of immersing myself into the world of the crock pot.  My reasons are simple I need to create a few bigger blocks of time each week to immerse myself into other projects. It feels like the right thing to do.

But I have a problem, I am a helicopter cook . I need to walk by the stove and stir the stew, open the oven door to check the slow roasting ragu, or lift the damp towel to see if the bread is rising.  I have to be no more then a few steps away.  I can’t leave my babies be or they will fail.  So for the better part of two years the slow cooker sits relegated to a remote corner in the back of my pantry.  No longer.  I am going to make use of it, but it’s not easy.  After all it’s like letting a stranger into the kitchen to cook for the family.  I can’t say I am comfortable with this aspect of crock pots but I am trying.Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup-

My other issue with the slow cooker is the dump it in, stir, and set it and forget it mentality.   Don’t get me wrong.  I understand there are days when this method is the only way dinner would get to the table.  I am not above it, I have done it, and there is nothing wrong with it.   But as a chef I know there is a process, there are reactions that occur when food is put to high heat that make it taste better. Take browning or caramelizing for instance, the sugars created during the Mallard reaction adds flavor and lots of it.  Outside of Pot-au-feu, Corned Beef,  or other simmered meats,  the vast majority of recipes rely on caramelization to attain the flavors important to that particular dish.  Other simple things like hot cooking oil in the bottom of the pan.  Fat is flavor so the rule goes.   This oil absorbs the flavors of herbs, mirepoix, and animal protein.  It is this oil that transfers tons of flavor to your tastebuds as it swaddles the tongue.  Have you ever added lots of rosemary to a soup and not really been able to taste it?   Then the next time you make soup the recipe has you gently fry the rosemary in the cooking oil before you add stock.  The rosemary flavor is much more pronounced when it is emulsified with oil.

See why I have trouble with slow cookers.  I mean,  I’ll admit I hover to much and spend to much time in the kitchen,  way more then I should.  You should see it when I am depressed, worried, or problem solving.

Nevertheless I am giving slow cookers another chance and I am determined to make them work this time.  To do that I decided I wouldn’t be afraid of dirtying an extra pan for browning vegetables, meats, and deglazing.  If cleaning the pan is more then you care to be bothered with then just skip the step and add everything to the slow cooker as is.  I just can’t.

My other concern, especially when posting a recipe, and this is because I want it to be successful for anyone who bothers to cook it, is all slow cookers are not created equally.  The low temperature on mine  seems like high to me.  It starts to simmer heavily, meaning bubbles are rising at the edges as if it is getting ready to break out into a boil, long before I think it should.  If you use your slow cooker often then you understand its nuances.  Use good judgement and make the necessary adjustments.

It’s hard to believe it’s possible to braise meat until it is dry but you can.  Often times we use very lean meats when slow cooking and this becomes a problem.  To get around dryness issues and to be assured of a great dish I use chuck roast that has a good fat content.  I also like to use fresh Asian noodles.  Surprisingly I don’t have to go to a specialty grocery for them either.  I have noticed lots of groceries carrying them along with dumpling and egg roll wrappers.  The good news is any noodle works so if you have spaghetti noodles use them.  Star anise is a specialty product as is Sichuan peppercorns.  If you would like a substitute, fennel or anise seed is good exchange for star anise,  and red pepper chile flakes work in place of the Sichuan peppercorns.  Yes your soup will be different if you substitute but it won’t be any less good.

Taiwanese Slow Cooker Beef Noodle Soup (serves 4)

1 large onion, thinly sliced
canola oil
2 1/2 lb. chuck roast
1/2 cup rice wine or sake
1 qt. rich homemade beef stock or no sodium beef stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 star anise
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns (optional but recommended)
1 1/2 TBS garlic, minced
1 1/2 TBS. fresh ginger, minced
1 cinnamon 3-inches long
1 TBS. tomato paste
16 oz. wheat noodles
Green onion

  1. Place a skillet over high heat.  In the dry pan sear the onions until they char at the edges.  Remove them to the slow cooker.
  2. Let the pan cool for a minute or two, add a healthy glug of oil to coat the bottom and sear the chuck roast on both sides until it is very deeply browned.  Remove the roast to the slow cooker as well.
  3. Carefully pour out the excess oil into a heat proof container.  Set the pan back over the heat and add the rice wine or sake.  Be careful it might flame.
  4. Add the stock and deglaze the pan.  Add the liquid to the cooker.
  5. Add soup, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and tomato paste to the slow cooker.
  6. Turn the heat to low and cook for 5 hours or until the meat is tender but not falling apart.
  7. Remove the chuck roast from the pot and place it on a plate.  Using oven pads, remove the crock pot insert and strain the broth into a large bowl
  8. Pour the broth back into the cooker, add the roast, and dispose of the solids in the strainer.
  9. Cook the noodles according to the package.
  10. As the noodles are near to being done throw a couple of handfuls of spinach in with the soup broth.  Stir and cook until it has wilted.
  11. Cut the roast into thin pieces.  Strain the noodles and divide them among 4 bowls.  Top with broth and spinach.
  12. Garnish with green onion and serve.

 

 

RECIPE CARD: All-American Crab Cakes

I can’t tell you how many times I made crab cakes while working at different restaurants.  I am pretty sure even I don’t  want to know.  What I do know is many times they had lots of flavors sans one, crab and I often thought the cakes were more bread crumb than crab.  So here is a quick, easy, and very crab tasting recipe that can be made any night of the week.  This recipe makes a lot of cakes but realize you can make the cakes and freeze them in sets of 4 cakes or whatever works for you. Continue reading “RECIPE CARD: All-American Crab Cakes”