From her train ride home, she sent a message requesting tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I liked the idea instantly, even if it did mean the gravy would have to wait for another day.
We stopped at the market to pick up soup. They didn’t have any, which was disappointing if not surprising. It’s not a market where you can find everything all the time; it has a great bakery, a garden-fresh produce section, their own coffee roaster, a trustworthy fish counter, and a not-particularly-wide variety of excellent prepared foods, but not aisles and aisle of canned goods. On this day, that not-particularly-wide variety did not include tomato soup. We considered some other dinner options and realized that we did in fact want soup and sandwiches, so moved on to the next-closest supermarket–where our tomato-soup options were nearly limitless. We chose an organic variety with basil and soy milk instead of cream.
She put the soup in a saucepan, set two cast-iron skillets to heat, and set herself to meticulously prepare sandwiches. I minced the leftover chicken she wanted to include while she spread molecularly-thin layers of the best mustard and mayonnaise perfectly from crust to crust. I’ve never seen a sandwich made with such precision, much less one I was going to get to eat.
The sandwiches were pressed between the two hot skillets for toasting, the soup was ladled into wide-mouthed mugs for sipping, spooning, or sandwich-dipping, and dinner was served: good soup and wonderful sandwiches. We agreed that the soup was a little bland, more like tomato-flavored soy milk. I heated a little bolognese sauce to be added as we each wished. I know that took the soup out of the realm of simple cream-of-tomato, but I was willing to accept the charge of fussiness. I suggested that, next time, we make soup from scratch.
She looked incredulous. “It takes seven hours to make tomato soup.”
I wondered how that was possible. She told me about finding a recipe when she was a girl, and asking the aunt she was visiting to teach her how to cook so as to make it. The good-humored aunt helped her slice many pounds of fresh tomatoes, slow-roast them in an oven for four hours, then skin and seed and dice them and simmer them with stock and gently cooked onions and garlic for another two hours, then puree in a blender, and add sour cream and basil before serving.
I admitted that a roasted-tomato soup was probably better than the one I had in mind, but wasn’t sure it was six hours and fifteen minutes better.
Faster Tomato Soup
2 (1 lb.) cans peeled, no-salt-added tomatoes
1 medium onion
1-1/2 T. butter
1-1/2 T. olive oil
A few basil leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Set a large saucepan over medium-low heat; add the oil and butter.
Coarsely chop the onion, sauté gently until translucent.
Set a strainer over a large bowl, and drain the juice from the canned tomatoes into it.
Cut each tomato in half, then squeeze gently over the strainer to remove seeds, collecting juice in bowl. Discard seeds. (Or don’t; if you want a little more rustic soup, skip the straining.)
When onion is ready, add tomatoes and juice to saucepan and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes.
Add basil, and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer about 5 minutes more.
Remove from heat and add cream.
Puree, using an immersion blender.
Serve with croutons or, better, grilled cheese sandwiches.
I can’t find her roasted-tomato soup recipe online, and she doesn’t still own the cookbook from which it came. I believe her, of course, about the long roasting and simmering, but I wonder about investing that much cooking time–especially not with a hot oven in the height of summer when fresh tomatoes are abundant–to get tomato soup. Who knows? Maybe it is that much better. Some night we might consider the relative merits of various grilled cheese sandwich preparation methods, too. And, maybe, next summer, we’ll have a taste test.