Get ready for light cooking!
Spring has just arrived and the weather is warming up, which means it’s high time we stopped focusing on heavy, wintery comfort food and start getting some summer inspiration. Soups seem like a perfect solution for this period. Halfway between warm and light, and ideal for saving any tired veggies unfit to be used in a salad.
Meet the Tomato Soup
Ready-made tomato soups are widely available in stores and supermarkets in various forms including canned, condensed, and powdery. However, here at MyGreatRecipes, we believe that fresh foods made from scratch are always the best solution. Especially when they are as easy to make as tomato soup and when they include nutritious ingredients like tomatoes.
The first recorded tomato soup is the one made by Maria Parloa in the 1870s. Today, even though it uses tomatoes as the main ingredient, the soup appears in many varieties – smooth (made with blanched, peeled, and pureed tomatoes) or made with tomato chunks; with cream or arrowroot as a thickener, with water or with broth. It can be served both cold and hot, usually topped with croutons or sour cream, or alongside a grilled cheese sandwich.
What Kind of Tomatoes to Use in Tomato Soup Recipes
Although the tomatoes available at the moment are coming from greenhouses and are far from the delicious peak-season, naturally-grown tomatoes, they will serve their purpose perfectly. As long as they are ripe.
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The best tomatoes for a soup are the ripest you can find. Some markets sell worn out tomatoes at very low prices, but if such tomatoes are not available, buy them a few days ahead and ripen them on the countertop, at a room temperature.
Left in a fruit bowl, tomatoes will release ethylene on their own and ripen slowly, but the process might last for a week or even longer. To speed things up, the tomatoes need to be stored together with other ethylene producing ingredients. Such ethylene sources are usually other fruits like apples or, even better, bananas. Use slightly greenish bananas because they are the ones that produce the highest amounts of ethylene.
Wash the tomatoes, allow them to dry and put them in a paper bag together with a banana. Make sure not to overcrowd the bag. If you have a larger number of tomatoes, divide them into several paper bags or store them in a closed cardboard box. Keep at a room temperature, away from sunlight and humidity. Check them from time to time to remove any mold.
How to Use Tomatoes in Soups
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Fun fact about tomatoes – they are fruits, not vegetables. Botanically, they belong to the berry family but a law dating from the 1800s classifies them as veggies. There are more than 7.000 tomato species around the world (which allows you to eat a different kind of tomato every day in a period of twenty years!).
The use of these red fruits dates back to the period around 500 BC in Mexico, where they were a staple ingredient and were considered a blessed food. Their popularity in the States today is undeniable – according to statistics, they are the second most consumed and produced vegetable. This can be explained by the fact that besides being very tasty, tomatoes are also highly nutritious.
Tomatoes are a part of the very nutritive family of nightshade plants which includes potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. They are considered to be a powerful antioxidant and very rich in lycopene. This combination makes tomatoes very efficient in preventing numerous diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular issues. In addition, they are also packed with other nutrients such as folate, beta-carotene, potassium, flavonoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Canned or Fresh Tomatoes?
You can choose between canned tomatoes and fresh ones. The general rule is to go with the canned version when out of season, i.e. when there are no quality ripe tomatoes available. Otherwise, opt for the fresh variety.
There are several ways to prepare the tomatoes (canned or fresh):
– Drain and roast them for about 30 minutes, until lightly brown. Place them, together with the reserved juice, in a blender and mix until thick.
– Simmer them in a vegetable or chicken stock for about 20-25 minutes.
– For roast tomato soup and a more intense tomato flavor, bake them in the oven.
– Combine fresh tomatoes, tomato purée, and tomato juice for a fresh and tangy summery soup.
Other Ingredients in Tomato Soup Recipes
The other main ingredient of tomato soups (and any other kind of soups for that matter) is – liquid. Even though these red veggies contain plenty of water, that is not enough for the soup.
One choice, the most neutral one, is water. The risk with water is that it might make your soup too thin.
The other, more popular choice, is stock. These are your options:
– Vegetable stocks contribute extra aroma and are the best choice for vegans.
– Light beef stock versions will bring a prominent meaty note.
– Chicken stock is probably the best choice. It balances the taste perfectly, making the soup rich and flavorful.
Tip: To avoid obtaining a watery soup, add half of the liquid required in the recipe first, then gradually add the rest of it, until you’ve reached the desired thickness.
Additions and Flavorings
Usual additions include onion, garlic, and celery. Carrots are often used to contribute a slightly sweet note. When it comes to herbs, fresh and dried basil seem to be a natural match for tomatoes. Alternatively, a bouquet of garni can be used, which usually includes thyme, sage, and bay leaves.
Some tomato soup recipes call for vinegar and sugar, always together because the vinegar emphasizes the natural acidity of tomatoes, so the sugar is needed to balance it back.
Creamy and Dreamy Tomato Soup
Tomatoes’ texture and high water content make them perfect for creamy soups. Creaminess is obtained by adding some kind of dairy, which will contribute the necessary consistency, followed by extra flavor. Here are the options:
– Double cream is better than regular cream. The regular version will only dilute the soup, unless you decide to use it in large amounts, risking to alter the flavor of the soup completely. The best alternative is to mix double cream with one egg yolk before adding it to the soup.
– Creamy soft cheese is also a good option. It adds creaminess without ‘burdening’ the soup. Alternatively, you can opt for crème fraîche (soured cream), which will add a tangy note.
Besides dairy, there are other thickening options to consider, especially when feeding vegans.
– Nutritional yeast whisked and heated in water, is especially popular in the vegan community. With its salty and cheesy taste, it works both as a creamer and as an additional seasoning.
– Arrowroot powder mixed into a cold liquid like water or non-dairy milk and whisked until smooth.
– Puréed potato gives thick and fluffy texture, but also makes the soup ‘heavier’, so it is better to save it for wintery tomato soup recipes.
The Best Techniques for a Perfect Tomato Soup
Bake the Tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and place in a baking dish with the cut side facing upwards. Drizzle with some olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Add just a pinch of sugar, then bake for about one hour, until soft and a bit scorched along the edges.
Sauté the Vegetables
Heat some olive oil in a heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat. Sauté one large chopped onion, grated carrot, and crushed garlic for about 5-7 minutes, until soft. Add some fresh chopped basil leaves and cook for a minute more.
Mixing Everything Together
Add the tomatoes, including the juices from the baking dish, to the pan. Add half of the chicken stock. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover the pan and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until all the veggies are soft. Add more stock if necessary, to achieve the desired thickness.
When the mixture has cooled down, purée it with a blender. Add some vinegar (preferably balsamic) and a thickener of choice (creme fraiche). Season to taste.
Reheat the soup over low heat. Decorate with basil leaves and a bit of olive oil drizzled on top.
Gazpacho Tomato Soup
Gazpacho is a tomato soup of Spanish origin. Fun fact: this soup is classified as a salad in Spanish cookbooks, probably due to the fact that it is made with mostly chunky ingredients. In Spain and Portugal, it is often served as a cold, refreshing summery dish.
Here are the main differences between the classic tomato soup as we like it and gazpacho:
– The tomatoes, onions, and garlic, are peeled and then chopped. Part of the tomatoes and other vegetables can be pureed in a blender or using the traditional technique – pounded in a mortar with a pestle.
– Gazpacho is usually made with cold water, not stock, plus olive oil, vinegar, and salt. These are added to the abovementioned pureed ingredients, followed by the unblended ingredients.
– Common garnishes include diced tomatoes, bell pepper slices, and cucumber. Some garnishes may be served separately, like hard boiled eggs, ham, or chopped nuts (usually almonds or pistachios).
This ancient dish began as a soup made of bread, olive oil, water, salt, and garlic. It introduced tomatoes as late as the 19th century. Although the tomato version is the one that is famous worldwide, it is not the only gazpacho variety out there. Modern versions replace tomatoes with avocado, watermelon, cucumber, grapes, parsley, meat, seafood, etc.
Find your favorite tomato soup and gazpacho recipes to cook during the upcoming warm days.