The Perfect Tomato Soup
I started cooking probably 5 or 6 years ago. Tomato soup was the first thing I’ve ever made. I was up late and flipping through some TV channels when I saw Emeril and the Food Network for the first time. From that fateful day, my life changed (so much so that I even started blogging about food!)
In that episode, Emeril made a tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. The next morning, I asked my mom if I could go to the grocery store with her and pick up a few ingredients. Thinking that she wouldn’t have to cook for the day, she was more than happy to oblige and let me explore my culinary curiosity. I picked up some tomatoes, some extra virgin olive oil (which had never been seen in my house before), some fancy bread from the bakery, and a cheese I had never heard of – mascarpone. These ingredients were completely foreign to me as all I had known was the Indian food we had at home and those oddly shaped chicken rings from the school cafeteria. I had, of course, had tomato soup before – but it came out of a can, went on the stove, and right to my plate. Sometimes, it had the alphabet in there. Remember that?!?
Since that day, sometime in 2004, I really started to enjoy cooking and trying out all sorts of different techniques using new ingredients. I can barely believe that for 18 years of my life, I had no idea what olive oil was. Now, it’s indispensable and always in my kitchen. Over the last few years, I really have, in my mind perfected this tomato soup recipe. It’s the best soup I’ve ever had. It has tomato flavor coming from concentrated tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and whole peeled canned tomatoes. If you only have one soup recipe in your arsenal, use this one.
Vivek’s Perfect Tomato Soup (serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entree)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 TB freshly chopped thyme or oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 TB tomato paste
4 sun dried tomatoes, sliced
1 large, juicy tomato (preferably heirloom and in season) *Note, if tomatoes are not in season, I omit this ingredient
1 28 oz can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
15 leaves basil
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. You want to add a good amount of oil, because it’s really a key ingredient in this soup. The oil not only lends great mouth feel to the soup, but it’s a necessary seasoning agent. I would say you want somewhere less than 1/4 cup, but not by much. It seems like a lot, but it’s key.
Once the oil is heated, add the diced onion and carrots. Season them and cook until they become translucent, about 6-7 minutes. You do not want to see color on these vegetables. Then, add the sliced garlic, thyme/oregano, and red pepper flakes. Let the herbs and pepper flakes cook into the onions. Your kitchen should smell amazing right about now.
Now, we put in the onslaught of tomatoes. First, add the tomato paste. This will give structure to your soup and ensure you have a nice, rich soup. Coat all the vegetables in the tomato paste. The mixture will begin to look dry, but you should be fine because of all that olive oil you put in at the beginning! After a minute or two, add the sun dried tomatoes and cook them for about a minute. Lastly, add the diced fresh tomato and let cook for about 4-5 minutes until it really breaks down.
Drain your can of tomatoes, but reserve the tomato juice. Pour the juice into the soup pot to “deglaze” all the brown bits from the bottom. Let the tomato juice reduce for about 4-5 minutes until it is thick, but not evaporated. This juice essentially acts as the stock in the dish, since we are not adding any additional liquid. Chop the canned tomatoes and add to the soup. Give the soup a big pinch of salt and season it with freshly ground pepper. Let it cook for about 10 minutes. You don’t want to cook this soup too long or you will lose the freshness of the tomatoes. After 10 minutes, turn the heat off. Add 10 basil leaves and let them infuse the soup with their great flavor.
If you want a more rustic presentation, you can serve the soup as is. I, however, like mine pureed. So, I stick it in the blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree the soup until smooth. Then, strain it into a clean saucepan and discard anything left in the sieve.
Taste the soup. This is where you want to adjust your seasoning. Does it need salt? If it’s too sweet or needs some acid, add the vinegar. Is it too acidic? Then add sugar. When it is to your taste, you’re ready to go.
Chiffonade (slice) the remaining basil and combine with the halved cherry tomatoes and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and salt.
To plate it up, ladle the soup into a nice bowl. Put some of the tomato relish right in the middle. And drizzle a little bit more olive oil on top.
If you’re looking for what to do with all those tomatoes you have left this summer, try this out. This soup is not only one of those things that elevates a childhood classic, but it reminds me why I started cooking and why I love it. Tomato soup will always be the first thing I’ve ever made and with this recipe, I’m proud to say it’s perfect.