It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the secret to a great tomato soup lies in using great tomatoes. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, where sugary sweet sun-ripened tomatoes are available all year round. The other day, while waiting out a blustery blizzard, I found myself craving a bowl of bright red tomato soup with that perfect balance of sweet, tart, and savory.
In winter, canned tomatoes make a good alternative because they are picked and canned during summer, giving them a lot more flavor than the watery salmon-hued abominations sold in the produce aisle. The best are the ones from San Marzano, Italy. Picked and canned at the height of summer, they have a wonderful balance between sweetness and tartness with a full-bodied tomato flavor. But be careful, because of the high prices they command, there are impostors that are sold as “San Marzano” when in fact the tomatoes are not from Italy and taste no different from any other canned tomato.
The problem with just using canned tomatoes is that they lack the brightness of a fresh tomato and so your soup will taste like it came from a can. To solve this, I like to add some fresh tomatoes. By mixing them, you’re able to cancel out the negatives of both.
Lastly, to add sweetness (and to make up for the watery nature of the fresh tomatoes), I like to add some tomato paste. This is a quick way to boost the flavor without simmering the tomatoes for hours.
To make the soup thick and creamy without adding cream, I borrow a page from the classic Italian tomato porridge Pappa al Pomodoro and add a little bread and a lot of olive oil to the soup. By sautéing the bread with the shallots and garlic, the Maillard reaction creates wonderful toasty caramel notes that balances out the fruity tomatoes and adds a subtle richness.
Creamy Tomato Soup
- 3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for serving)
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 thick slice of good bread, diced
- 650 grams (23 ounces) fresh tomatoes, diced
- 400 grams (14 ounces) good canned tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2" sprig rosemary
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pot along with the shallots and garlic and sauté over medium-heat until the shallots just start to turn brown around the edges.
- Add the bread, and then continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until the bread starts to turn brown around the edges and the shallots are fully caramelized.
- Add the fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, rosemary and salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Remove the rosemary, and then add the soup to a heat resistant blender (or use an immersion blender) along with the remaining olive oil. Lightly puree the soup, and then pass it through a strainer to remove the seeds and skin.
- Taste the soup and adjust to taste. If it’s too sour, you can balance it out by adding something sweet like honey, agave, or unrefined sugar. Reheat the soup and serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.