REMOVE THE CREAM SO YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THE TOMATOES
Awarm bowl of tomato soup brings out the kid in all of us. But don’t expect the familiar red-and-white striped can to provide as much satisfaction today as it did years ago. A grown-up palate will realize the contents are so sweet they are best described as “cream of ketchup soup.” You can do better.
Tomato soup should have a bright taste balanced by the fruit’s natural sweetness. And it must be velvety smooth. Many homemade versions get the texture right (add enough cream and any soup will be creamy), but the flavor is awfully dull. We find that adding any amount of cream to this recipe goes hand in hand with muting flavor.
But if you omit the cream, the tomatoes don’t have sufficient body to make soup. And they taste very tart. Fixing the flavor is fairly easy. Sautéing an onion ramps up the sweet notes and balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Adding a spoonful of brown sugar (preferred over white sugar for its complexity) also helps.
The texture is a bigger challenge because cooked tomatoes are so watery. Soups that dial back the cream often rely on a starch to thicken the puree. Unfortunately, flour and cornstarch just make the tomatoes slimy, and adding a potato or handful of rice seems like a lot of work for a soup that should be simple. We took inspiration from a summer tomato soup. Gazpacho is often thickened with bread, a tradition that probably began for reasons of thrift. For our wintery soup, we blend the cooked tomatoes with a few slices of sandwich bread to create a velvety soup without a drop of cream. However unlikely, this Spanish innovation fixes an iconic American recipe.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Start with Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are almost always far better than “fresh” supermarket tomatoes; plus, they’re already peeled. Whole tomatoes work better than diced, which often contain calcium chloride, an additive that prevents them from breaking down completely. And don’t worry about needing to chop them up—the whole tomatoes will get crushed into small pieces with a potato masher right in the pot—and later whirred in a blender.
Oil, Not Butter
Butter lends a sweet, rich flavor to soups, but in this case the milk solids in the butter dull the flavor of the tomatoes. An easy fix is to swap in extra-virgin olive oil, which brightens the soup. To reinforce that fruity, peppery flavor, we drizzle the soup with more oil before pureeing it.
Sweet and Savory Seasoning
Tomato soup can be unbalanced or bland. Sautéed chopped onion and a little brown sugar coax out the sweetness of the tomatoes. Sautéing garlic with the onion and adding a pinch of red pepper flakes further boosts flavor. A splash of brandy edges the soup into sophisticated territory.
Use Bread for Body
Without some kind of thickener, tomato soup is thin and watery. A few slices of sandwich bread cooked right in the soup provide body and a velvety texture without obscuring the tomato flavor. To be sure the bread purees cleanly in the blender—no one wants pockets of soggy bread in their soup—we puree just the tomato mixture and bread and then whisk the chicken broth into the puree. A few grinds of pepper, fresh chives, and a drizzle of olive oil complete the soup.
Mash the tomatoes to thicken the soup and then add crustless sandwich bread to finish the job.
Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
SERVES 6 TO 8
- 5 minutes to ready croutons for oven (bake them while working on soup)
- 20 minutes to prepare ingredients and cook soup
- 10 minutes to puree and finish soup
- Rimmed baking sheet for making croutons
- Dutch oven for cooking soup
- Potato masher for breaking down tomatoes
- Blender (An immersion blender can be used to process the soup directly in the pot.)
Substitutions & Variations
- For a spicier soup, increase the amount of hot red pepper flakes or add some cayenne pepper.
- For an ultrasmooth soup, pass the pureed mixture through a fine-mesh strainer before stirring in the chicken broth in step 2.
Make sure to purchase canned whole tomatoes in juice, not puree. If half of the soup fills your blender by more than two-thirds, process the soup in three batches.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
- 3 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
- 1 recipe Butter Croutons (recipe follows)
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, pepper flakes, if using, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in bread and sugar. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
- Transfer half of soup to blender. Add 1 tablespoon oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy, if using. Return soup to boil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with croutons.
BUTTER CROUTONS MAKES ABOUT 3 CUPS
Be sure to use regular or thick-sliced bread (do not use thin-sliced bread). Either fresh or stale bread can be used to make croutons, although stale bread is easier to cut and crisps more quickly in the oven. If using stale bread, reduce the baking time by about 2 minutes. Croutons made from stale bread will be more crisp than those made from fresh.
- 6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
- Salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine bread cubes and salt and pepper to taste in medium bowl. Drizzle with butter and toss well with rubber spatula to combine.
- Spread bread cubes in single layer on rimmed baking sheet or in shallow baking dish. Bake croutons until golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Let cool on baking sheet to room temperature. (Croutons can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)
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