Okay, maybe that was too harsh. I don’t actually think Campbell’s uses fake tomatoes in their soup. But neither do I believe they walk out behind the factory with little fabric-lined baskets and lovingly select and then hand-pick only the best and ripest tomatoes in the patch for their soup. I think a giant truck backs up to the factory door and dumps half-ripe, chemically sprayed tomatoes from who knows where onto a very cold and neutral conveyor belt.
I like my way better.
And yes, I do go out to the garden with a fabric-lined basket. I’ve learned that food tastes better when it rides home in such a basket.
I discovered this recipe several years ago, and it has since ruined us for every other tomato soup out there. The reason for this post title is the conversation we had upon taking our first bite. Dave’s eyes widened along with mine, and we locked glances, and I said, “Can you believe we’ve been eating Campbell’s soup all these years?!”
I won’t lie to you: this takes a little effort. But it is SO WORTH THAT EFFORT that you won’t complain a bit … after you have a bite.
I sure hope you have a garden, or generous friends with their own big garden, and a bounty of vine-ripened tomatoes.
As-Fresh-As-It-Gets Tomato Soup
Slightly adapted from Farmhouse Cookbook, by Susan Herrmann Loomis
- 2 medium onions or 1 very large onion, peeled and chopped
- 4-6 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 lbs fresh tomatoes, cut in half (Romas and very small tomatoes) or quarters (all others)
- 1-2 TBSP sugar (this cuts the acids in the tomatoes)
- 1 handful of basil leaves, chopped fine (optional)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- optional garnish: sour cream, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and/or basil
In a very large soup pot, sauté the chopped onions and celery in the 1/2 cup of water till tender. Watch that the pieces don’t start to burn. After about 10 minutes, add the chopped garlic and cook another 3 minutes. If needed, add a small amount of water to keep it all from sticking.
Add the chopped tomatoes and basil (if using), stir well, and cover. Cook on medium until the tomatoes are tender (about an hour).
At the end of the cooking time, taste and add 1 to 2 TBSP of sugar to smooth out the taste. (Tomatoes are acidic, so the addition of a little sugar cuts that. I always put a little dollop of grape jelly in my spaghetti sauce for that reason.) Cook another five minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the softened butter and the flour in a small bowl until smooth.
And this was a nice surprise: a little bit of heart-shaped sunlight in the shadow to the right.
AND NOW FOR THE EFFORT …
If you have one of those old cone-shaped doodads that women used to use to press out all the seeds from the tomatoes, you’re in luck. Use that. (I had one a loooong time ago, and haven’t seen it in years.) For all the rest of us, here’s what I’ve learned through trial and error. Take a colander (a.k.a strainer) and put it over a large bowl. I’ve tried this with a fine sieve, and it just doesn’t work as well. I’ve used the colander the last several times I’ve made this and it works much better.
Scoop out about 2 cups of the tomatoes into the colander and, using the back of a large slotted spoon (works best), press down on the tomatoes so that the juice runs down through the colander into the bowl below. Keep doing this until you’ve pressed all the juice out of the tomatoes. What you’re doing is a) collecting juice and b) getting rid of all the skins, which have a very unappealing texture if left in the soup.
NOTE: The first time I made this soup, I did everything I wrote above. But then I thought, Wouldn’t it be easier to peel the skins first, so I don’t have to do all that pressing? So I did that on the next batch. Yes, it saved me all that pressing effort, but at the expense of flavor. Cooking the tomatoes in the skins adds more to the soup. So the third time I made this, I thought, What if I leave the skins in but then puree the whole thing in my Vitamix? That saved me some work too, but the resulting texture was very frothy/foamy. It wasn’t as appealing as the first batch. So now I’ve resigned myself to pressing all those tomatoes. It just works best. But if you come up with a fourth way, please come back and let me know!
Now that you have a giant bowl full of tomato juice, put it all back into your soup pot (which you have rinsed out by now) and cook over medium heat for a few minutes to heat back up. Take about a cup of the juice and pour it over the butter/flour mixture in your other bowl. Stir well to smooth it out into a creamy paste. Then pour that butter/flour/soup mixture into the big soup pot with all the rest of the juice, and stir well. Cook for ten minutes.
At this point, you have soup base. You can cool it and store it in freezer bags, or you can can it in a water bath, or you can serve it up on the spot. Whichever way you go, when it comes time to cook and serve the soup, just mix two parts soup base to one part milk (or a non-milk milk, like almond or rice).
I am betting you will never buy canned soup again. Not ever. Or, as my grandson says, “Not ever, EVER!”