Tomato Basil Soup

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There was a little bistro here in my town – a sandwich, soup, and salad kind of place. It was successful, but the owners eventually retired and moved to Texas to be closer to their extended family.

The one thing I always ordered was their tomato basil soup. It was rich, tomatoey, and perfumed with sweet basil. And I don’t typically order soup at restaurants.


This is my attempt to recreate something hopefully similar, and definitely good, based on the following criteria.

1. I believe in using good quality canned tomatoes. Summer fresh tomatoes are lovely, but can lack in sweetness, or worse yet – can be tart.

2. I’m adding a carrot to provide a sweet boost, something I learned from making an Italian tomato tart.

3. I’m including a few sun-dried tomatoes for sweetness; they also help thicken.

4. Dried basil goes into this soup. I know that it seems unsophisticated, but I feel both fresh and dried herbs have their places in cooking.

Tomato Basil Soup
printable recipe below

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, halved
2 – 28 ounce cans San Marzano whole tomatoes, or other high quality brand
6 sun-dried tomato halves, jarred in oil
1 tablespoon (or more) dried sweet basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces heavy cream

Melt the butter in a large enameled pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and sauté for about 5 minutes.


Add the garlic halves and stir for about 30 seconds, then pour in the canned tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes.

Simmer the tomato mixture for at least 30 minutes, uncovered. Cook longer if there’s still too much liquid; you’ll be adding cream later.

Stir in the sweet basil and salt, and season to taste.

Let the soup cool. Then pour the soup into a large blender jar, along with the cream.

Return the puréed soup to the pot and heat through before serving.

Even with the cream, the soup remains tomato-red, and definitely rich in flavor.

If more richness and creaminess are desired, you can always add a little sour cream or creme fraiche.

Alternatively, crumble a little goat cheese on top.

This soup is fairly quick and definitely easy. If you don’t have sun-dried tomatoes, just use a good quality tomato paste instead, about 3 tablespoons. I like tubular tomato paste for a small job.

Add more dried basil if the soup isn’t basil-y enough. You should definitely taste the tomato-basil combination!

 

 

Got Stale Bread?

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Got stale bread? Make panzanella!

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with stale, or at the very least, leftover bread, and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. I’m sure its origins are peasant-based, because the peasant approach to making meals is all about using everything available to you, without any waste. And that means you never throw away old bread. You just turn it into a salad!

Besides bread, other additions include tomatoes, plus oil and vinegar. Some panzanellas get more involved with the inclusion of cucumbers, olives, and capers. I sometimes like to add some spinach leaves as well. And I have added feta cheese, although at that point it almost becomes a Greek-inspired salad. Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good!

So today my panzanella is made from leftover sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella pearls, purple onion, and lots of basil. No recipe is needed!

Panzanella

Leftover bread or stale bread*
Vinegar, I used red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
Small purple onion, sliced
Mozzarella pearls, if you want to include cheese
Pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in halves
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh basil

First, break up the bread or slice it into cubes.
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Place the bread in a serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with vinegar to soften up the bread. This is especially important if using stale bread. See * below for more information on this.
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Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on some salt and more vinegar.
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Then add the cucumbers, which you can season with salt as well.


Add the purple onions, and the mozzarella pearls.

Add the olives. Season well with salt and pepper, and give everything a toss. Add more vinegar and olive oil as necessary. (If you prefer, you can certainly use a pre-made vinaigrette instead of just using oil and vinegar.)

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Before serving, sprinkle with baby basil leaves, or a chiffonade of basil.

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The salad can also sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours for the flavors to combine. Just toss gently once before serving. The salad is prettier if the bread remains somewhat in intact pieces.
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* Typically, actual stale bread is used for this salad. Then it’s dipped in water to soften. I really don’t like that technique, even though it works. I love vinegar, so I just add a lot of vinegar to the bread before completing the salad. Also, my bread was only a couple of days old, and not stale. I could have dried it out in the oven, but I was fine with the bread as is. Some people grill the bread first before slicing it, but I personally don’t like this option because grilled bread can really tear up the roof of my mouth. But as you can see, there are many options

note: If you have leftover bread but don’t want panzanella, make bread crumbs. That way, there’s no waste!

Red Fish

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This recipe is so easy that I hesitated doing a post on it. But since my blog hopefully inspires people to cook more often, and be less intimidated about home cooking, I just knew I had to follow through with the post.

This recipe involves a white fish, and a tomato-based topping that just takes a few minutes to prepare. The only difference for me when I prepared this recipe, is that I got to use a redfish for the first time.

If any of you remember, I have a girlfriend whose husband fishes around the world, and they gave me a giant filet of redfish from the Gulf of Mexico to try. I also had a wonderful time discovering wahoo on this post and a fresh chunk of tuna on that post.

A red fish, or redfish, I’ve seen it both ways, has coin-sized scales, that feel more like sea shells than fish scales. I was told to cook it with the scales attached, so that’s exactly what I did.
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But for this recipe, any white fish would be delicious. If you’re not a fish lover, you could even substitute chicken or veal scallops.
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Mediterranean Style Redfish

1 large filet of redfish, or smaller filets of a white-fleshed fish
Drizzle of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place the redfish in an oiled baking dish, scales side down. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with the oregano, salt, and pepper.
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Bake until done*. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, but it’s important not to overcook the fish.
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Alternatively, you can broil it, but you need to watch it carefully.

For the tomato topping:
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Olive oil
1 shallot, diced
4 Roma tomatoes, diced, seeded
6-8 Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon or so of capers
Fresh basil leaves

Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a small skillet. Saute the shallots for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Let them cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated, and the tomatoes don’t look so raw. Then add the olives and capers and stir well. Heat through.
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For this recipe I did a chiffonade of basil. This is just a fancy word to describe a slicing technique. You simply stack about 6 or so leaves of basil together, like this.
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Then you roll them into a cigar and slice 1/8″ crosswise slices. This technique creates delicate little curls of basil.
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I actually added the basil chiffonade to the tomato mixture, but alternatively, you can save the basil to sprinkle on top of the dish when it’s served.

To serve, slice the large filet of redfish in half, and carefully slide the spatula in between the scaley skin and the fish flesh. Place on a plate and add the warm tomato mixture on top. Add a little salt, if desired.

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* I unfortunately can’t give an exact time to cook fish, because there are so many factors. If you’re really unsure, slice into the fish during the cooking process to evaluate if it needs to cook more. The fish will become more opaque, but it should still look soft and tender. Too much cooking and the fish will dry out.