|Pantry cream of tomato soup. Nom nom nom.|
One of my favorite TV shows is “Chopped.” The Food Network is like, “Welcome chef-testants! You have 30 minutes to make a world class meal. You must use liver, Doritos, ocra, and a bag of rusty nails. Ready? Time starts now!”
Pretty much every time the chef-testants (how much do I hate that term?) produce something amazing.
Mainly I watch “Chopped” when I’m in the kitchen after a busy day and have no idea what I’m going to make. I have a fully stocked pantry, access to gazillions of recipes over the internet, and no hard and fast time limit. If the "Chopped" people can throw together a restaurant class entree out of borderline biohazards in 30 minutes, surely I can figure out dinner.
On nights where I’m staring into the pantry feeling forlorn, one of my favorite go-to's is Pantry Cream of Tomato Soup*. I get to make a surprisingly tasty dish out of a random assortment of ingredients that are pretty much always hanging around the kitchen and don't sound that appetizing on their own
“Welcome chef-testant Me! You have 30 minutes to make a family dinner. You must use canned tomatoes, some kind of onion-esque thing you’re pretty sure your husband picked up at the farmer's market last week, whatever herbs remain unkilled in your garden, and milk.”
Here’s what you need**:
|The cast of characters.|
1 24 oz. can of tomatoes or 2-3 cups fresh tomatoes, "Chopped" (see what I did there?)
2+ cups / 500 ml milk or cream (room temp. is best)
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ bay leaf
A sprig or two of thyme or your favorite herb
Ready? Time starts now!
|You can get as Paula Deen (or not) as you want with the butter.|
1. Melt the butter in a 3+ quart pot over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened but not browned, stirring fairly frequently. This should take 2 or 3 minutes but the key is checking to see if your shallot is softened. Why a shallot? Because we always seem to have one lying around. Half an onion works well too and you can throw in a few cloves of minced garlic if you feel so inclined.
2. Add the flour and make a ‘roux’ with the shallots and the butter stirring frequently, 1-2 minutes.
3. Slowly add the milk, bay leaf, thyme, sugar, and salt. Why thyme? Because I enjoy the taste with shallots and there’s some growing out on our deck that’s nigh-indestructible so it’s my go-to fresh herb. Dried thyme, rosemary, or your favorite herb would work fine too.
Keep an eye on the milk mixture, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. About 10 minutes. The timing on this is more variable because it’ll depend on the temperature of the milk, how much flour you used, etc. Your goal is to get the roux fully integrated into the milk mixture so it’s just a tad thicker without scalding any milk to the bottom of the pan.
4. Now it’s time for tomatoes. You can use fresh ones if you’ve got some overflowing from your garden or canned ones if it’s, say, January in the Pacific Northwest and fresh tomatoes would mean your soup would cost $17 to make which you think is ridiculous. I like organic fire roasted tomatoes for this but really anything will do.
All canned tomatoes are not created equal, however, so make sure you check the ingredients on the can. One of the main reasons to make tomato soup from scratch rather than just opening a can is that the ingredients in canned soups can be pretty Franken-foodie. If someone sneaks unpronouceable preservatives and high fructose corn syrup into your canned tomatoes then you're up against the same problem.
Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes. It’ll look weird. Vaguely reminiscent of those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes you used to make in elementary only less explode-y. The idea is that the baking soda cuts the natural acidity of the tomatoes.
5. Add the tomato mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer.
|Hey, don't judge. Food photography is crazy hard.|
6. Remove bay leaf and thyme branches, take your handy dandy immersion blender, and blend soup until smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender you can just pour the soup into a regular blender or food processor.) Be careful! You’re dealing with hot liquids here!
|Food photography while immersion blending is even harder.|
7. Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Too bland? Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Not ‘herby’ enough? Add the bay leaf and thyme branches back into the blended soup and give it a few more minutes over very low heat. Not ‘tomato-y’ enough? Stir in some tomato paste or more tomatoes.
If you’re not quite ready to eat yet you can keep the soup warm over a very low burner or let it cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
|A homemade childhood classic all grown up.|
I like to throw some grilled cheese sandwiches and a salad together while I’m making the soup but it’s also great with grilled cheese croutons, in a bread bowl, or just by itself.
Pantry Cream of Tomato Soup is not as jaw dropping as a "Chopped" entree but it's made from pantry staples and fridge basics, involves no Franken foods, generates minimal dishes, and can easily be made ahead of time and reheated. On busy weeknights that's the kind of amazing I need.
* This recipe is derived from the original I found here, from Epicurious.com and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
**You can increase or decrease the amount of butter or substitute in olive oil or another fat of your choice, just make sure to adjust the flour so it’s about equal to the amount of fat. You can also cut the flour or substitute in another thickening agent if gluten is an issue.