Just the other day, I had a bowl of produce from the garden facing me. The tomatoes had been wiped out by bunnies, yielding only a couple dozen or so for the entire season. The zucchini and crookneck squash had been murdered by gophers.
This bowl held what was left of the tomatoes, after we had pulled their vines up, along with a few small bell peppers and several chiles that had been harvested the day before. Some of my plants are only yielding a few vegetables every few days, which would mean that I don’t usually have enough of any one thing at a time.
I was in the mood for tomato soup but not for the heavy cream variety (it was pretty warm that day). I consulted the usual experts on the subject — Julia Child; Silver Palate. What transpired from that point on was nothing short of magical. Only the best, low-fat, creamy, richly-flavored and satisfying tomato soup ever. Really.
What sets this tomato soup apart is the fact that it can be made with many of the vegetables in the standard garden: onions, garlic, carrots, peppers (sweet and hot) and of course, the tomatoes. This is an especially great way to use tomatoes that are not quite ripe enough but have too much color for frying up as green.
It also freezes well as a base for more elaborate soups, stews or even a pasta sauce in the next few months. It’s a great way to preserve produce, now that the summer gardens have wound down. As is common for me, I list the ingredients that I used in approximate amounts and general preparation directions — this is an absolutely flexible recipe that allows for what you’ve got to work with. The key to the success of this dish is how you do it — not exact proportions.
End-of-the garden tomato soup
2 large onions, sliced
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
5 cups fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and chopped
Additional vegetable suggestions (chopped into small pieces): carrots, celery, bell peppers, tomatillos (I added several hot chiles and a couple of tomatillos, along with the bell pepper)
Seasoning suggestions: thyme, basil, marjoram, rosemary-fresh, dried or a combination
Sea salt and fresh pepper, to taste (optional)
8 cups liquid: I used 7 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of dry white wine but any combination of water, vegetable, seafood or meat broth would work equally well
Large, deep pan
Heat olive oil over medium heat; add sliced onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until tender and opaque. Add garlic, tomatoes, seasonings and any of the optional vegetable selections. If you are using any of the harder vegetables, sauté these until soft but not brown, before adding the tomatoes. Continue cooking for about another four to five minutes, then pour in the liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this point, the heat will need to be turned down to medium-low and simmered until everything has almost melted together and the mixture has thickened, stirring occasionally, for about two hours. Remove from heat and cool. Puree’ soup in batches either in a food processor or blender (I prefer to use a stick blender directly in the pan). Place strainer in another large pot or heat-proof bowl and carefully pour soup through to remove any skins. Here’s the fun part: deciding if the taste/texture is what you want or if you want to add cream, milk, butter, cheese, etc. It is amazingly delicious exactly as described above but you can also choose garnishes that you feel would complement your masterpiece: chopped green onion, chopped chives, fresh basil shreds, freshly-made garlic croutons, sautéed shrimp, cooked and crumbled bacon, sour cream, etc. Makes roughly 2 1/2 quarts (12 cups).
Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.