I love a great tomato soup and until I found this recipe, I’d really just had a lot of mediocre to fine tomato soup in my life. So I suppose it’s correct to say that this tomato soup changed my life. It’s great. Tomato soup has been made great again.
A couple of great things about this soup include that you can make it a vegan dish by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth and a non-dairy spread for the butter, AND you don’t need to rely on fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes work great and allow you to make a soup that will taste the same each time you make it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a great fresh tomato, but in season or out, a really tasty tomato isn’t always easy to find or costs enough per pound that you can’t always say yes. If you happen to be one of those people who’ve previously pooped on the idea of using canned tomatoes, cut it out!
Now the hardest part about making this soup is the bloody looking mess you need to get into when you seed the tomatoes. After two can’s worth, you can’t wait to rinse out the sink and get rid of the evidence. I like to split them open down the middle and then use my thumbs to slide out the bitter little seeds. My husband prefers to poke a hole in the bottom and let some of it leak out before he opens them up to scrape out the seeds. However you manage to get the seeds out, you are a true Ravenclaw wizard if you manage to get every last seed out, so don’t think twice about having a few left here and there.
Once you roast these tomatoes with the brown sugar sprinkled over the top, you’ve got one of the layers of flavor that make this soup soooooo good.
The true magic in this soup, though, comes from the warm combination of shallots, butter and allspice. What exactly is allspice if it’s not all the spices in the world ground together into one potent mixture? Well, these little berries that are picked green, dry brown and look like a kind of peppercorn tend to be used in recipes for sweet rather than savory dishes here in the US (think of your fall pumpkin bread). In other parts of the world, though, allspice is an integral part of delicious savory dishes. Jerk chicken? Yeah, that’s allspice. That Yo no sé que in the best tabbouli ever? You got it – allspice.
Once you’ve got all your ingredients prepped, everything finally simmers together to meld the flavors before you blend it smooth. The original recipe calls for a half cup of cream near the end, but I prefer it creamless. Add the cream if you want. It doesn’t make the soup better or worse, it just makes it a different soup.
One last thing I have to share: In our house, we don’t know how to eat this soup without a grilled cheese by its side. That should be the real final step in the recipe, but I can’t tell you how to live your life. You do you.
Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook recipe for Classic Cream of Tomato Soup
2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained, seeded, all juice from cans reserved (I usually get 2 cups worth – more is great if you can get it!)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter (or a non-dairy butter-like spread)*
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth (or substitute vegetable broth)
2 tablespoons cooking sherry
Salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with foil.
Seed your tomatoes and spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes. Allow them to cool a bit.
Melt all the butter in your soup pot (I use a 3 1/2 quart dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the sliced shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Stir to combine, reduce heat to low, then cover and let cook until the shallots are softened, 10-13 minutes. Your range’s low and my range’s low might be different, so if your shallots aren’t very soft after at least 10 minutes, turn up the heat a tiny bit, cover, and try a few minutes more.
Add the flour to your softened shallot mixture, stirring until well-combined, approximately 20 seconds.
Add your chicken broth and stir. Next add the reserved tomato juice, stirring to combine. And finally, you can add those roasted tomatoes. Give it all a good stir, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low (enough so that some bubbling occasionally occurs) and let simmer for at least 10 minutes to combine the flavors.
Blend the soup smooth using an immersion blender or a traditional blender. If you use a traditional blender, let the soup cool off for a while before pouring it into the blender.
Stir the cooking sherry into your newly smooth soup.
Add salt to taste. (Depending on the kind of broth you use, you may find you don’t need additional salt.)
Optional: Make a grilled cheese using sharp cheddar. Cut the sandwich into triangular halves. Dunk a sandwich half into the soup, eat and repeat (you can read that as repeat everything, like making another grilled sandwich, or just the dunking and eating part).
*Note: Not all non-dairy butter-like spreads are alike. If you follow a vegan diet, you know this all too well. I tried out the vegan version of this soup using Earth Balance. It worked out fine, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that it was being used on low heat. I haven’t has as good of luck using it on higher heat.