My boxes this month have contained many, many tomatoes. And I have finally used them all! It helped that the last two boxes’ worth of tomatoes didn’t start to mold the day after arrival, but I also consider it a great personal triumph that for the first time this summer I didn’t have to compost a single rotten tomato. The secret to my tomato salvation? A chance email from Cook’s Illustrated.
Cook’s Illustrated is a luscious magazine full of little hand-drawn illustrations of how to chop an onion and how to form gnocchi, and beautiful color charts of peppers and mushrooms. The magazine is made by the same people who do a show on PBS called America’s Test Kitchen (or so I’ve read in the magazine – I don’t have a TV so I’ve never seen the show), and both are based on the same principle. They take a dish, French onion soup, maybe, or vanilla sheet cake, and they make it over and over again, testing different ingredients and techniques and equipment, tweaking every variable, until they come up with what they feel is the “master recipe” – the very best way to make that particular dish. Most of their recipes involve either meat or wheat, so I can’t actually make them, but the magazine is, for me, food porn at its very best. I subscribe to their website so I can have access to their very thorough archive of kitchen equipment testing results, and consequently I get emails from them. Called “Notes from the Test Kitchen,” these recipes and tips and menus are also usually centered on meat and wheat, but occasionally I’ll read one that is just exactly right.
Like last week’s “All About Tomatoes” feature, containing a whole passel of recipes designed to help me take care of the pile of heirlooms, Shady Ladies, Romas, and cherry tomatoes crowding my kitchen table. I decided to try the Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil, a soup with a base of pureed roasted tomatoes that then has fresh tomatoes and basil added to it. Interestingly, when I followed the directions exactly (this was a many-times tested “master recipe,” of course) the roasting tomatoes started burning with half an hour of cooking time still to go. But I once I rescued them and scraped them off the (fortunately lined with foil) roasting pan, the rest of the recipe came together with ease, and the end result made for a truly delicious summer meal.
The combination of sweet, concentrated tomato flavor from the roasted tomatoes and bright, clean tomato flavor from the fresh tomatoes was fantastic, and many notches above your average can of Campbell’s. I used heirlooms and Shady Ladies for roasting, and a multicolored assortment of cherry tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes. It was such a relief to use up what was probably my last batch of endless tomatoes for the season (I’m putting my box on hold for a few weeks while I figure things out) that I am celebrating by contributing this post to Croatian food blogger Maninas’ blog event Eating with the Seasons. Soup recipe follows…
Fresh Tomato Soup With Basil (recipe is verbatim from Cook’s Illustrated website)
Notes: I made half a recipe and it made two generous servings for dinner plus two small bowls for lunch the next day. I suggest keeping a close eye on the roasting tomatoes after about 30-40 minutes. I think mine started to brown around then, and by one hour they had burned all around the edges. Because of this, I didn’t have enough roasted tomatoes to puree for the soup base. Instead, I blended what I had with 2 C. scrap stock, which came out delicious. Straight tomato puree might be too rich of a broth. It also might be awesome, which is why I’ve left the recipe intact but given my variation here in this note.
Serves 4 to 6
5 pounds ripe beefsteak or plum tomatoes , cored and quartered; plus 1 pound, cored and diced medium
2 onions , chopped
8 garlic cloves , peeled and left whole; plus 1 clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine quartered tomatoes, onions, whole garlic cloves, oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in large roasting pan. Roast, stirring once or twice, until tomatoes are brown in spots, about 11/2 hours. Let cool 5 minutes. Working in two batches, process roasted tomato mixture in food processor until smooth. (Pureed mixture can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
2. When ready to serve, combine diced tomatoes, minced garlic, basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl and marinate for 30 minutes. Transfer to large saucepan, add pureed tomato mixture, and simmer over medium heat until diced tomatoes are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and sugar to taste. Serve.