Fresh Tomato Soup Two Ways: Clean and spicy or Creamy and comforting

no grilled cheese required 

Not Your Famous Pop Arist’s Tomato Soup

I love Campbell’s classic condensed tomato soup. I know, me and half the rest of the Western world, right? There’s a reason it’s an icon. I’m not saying it makes me special or anything. But I really, really love it. My freshman year of high school, I made a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can costume for Halloween out of two giant macramé rings and some red, white, and mustard-yellow felt. That was before everyone had cell phones and all cell phones were cameras, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was a decent facsimile. I wore it again on Halloween my sophomore year of college, and my roommate went as Andy Warhol. No one got it. We didn’t care.

I’ve mostly abandoned the other processed foods I loved as a kid, like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Nissin Cup O’Noodles, and the generic versions of Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks. But I always have tomato soup in my cupboard. I had never even thought about making fresh tomato soup before, because why bother? Campbell’s is so good.

And then, this summer, I just kept finding myself stuck with mountains of too-ripe tomatoes (and a lot of rotting ones that ended up in the trash bin). I did the fresh tomato pasta sauce thing. I did the fresh salsa thing. But eventually, all I could think about when I looked at the endlessly-refilling pile was the tomato juice I made a couple weeks ago for the tomato bars. There were a few ounces left over, and as I drank them, I regretted the fact that I didn’t have gallons of it. It reminded me of a velvety, chilled version of Campbell’s soup.

You Can Never Go Home Again

Looking back, I feel like that juice was my first tentative bite of a forbidden apple. Now that I’ve fallen to temptation and made fresh tomato soup not once, but twice, I’m a little afraid that I won’t be able to go back my old canned stand-by. What if I don’t like it as much anymore? What if I’ve spoiled myself?

this version is rich enough to be a satisfying dinner with a salad and some breadIt would be one thing if it was entirely different—the way baked macaroni and cheese is so unlike Kraft, the two don’t even really compete. Apples and oranges. But it turns out that if you cut up some really ripe tomatoes and then simmer them for 15-20 minutes, maybe with some sautéed onion and a dash of sugar and salt, maybe with some jalapeno and/or ginger, and then you strain out all the solids…it’s almost exactly like Campbell’s, except better. Transcendent. It’s the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted, permeated by sweet onion and spice. It feels like a warm hug in a bowl, like a last gift from Summer delivering you gently into the Fall.

I didn’t even want to put crackers in it because they just would have diluted it. I might eat it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich someday, perhaps something snooty like port salut with mango chutney, or raclette with ham and pickle slices…but there will be no dipping. This soup is the platonic ideal of cooked tomato all by itself. 

However, I guess since I figured I’d already ruined myself for Campbell’s, I decided: why not make a creamy version? Same process, but I cooked the tomato down a little more before straining it and then made a quick roux to thicken the milk before whisking the tomato back in. This time, I garnished it with a few parmesan curls and some chopped fresh parsley. As I was eating it, I got to thinking that what would really put it over the top is some grilled cheese croutons: sharp cheddar or gruyere melted between two thin slices of bread and then cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little oil or melted butter and sprinkled with dried parsley, garlic powder, and maybe some grated parmesan and then toasted for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until golden brown and crisp all over. Of course, that’s really just gilding the lily

Both ways, it’s fantastic and deceptively comforting, given that it may be robbing you of one of your most enduring childhood pleasures. I just hope I don’t find myself tomato soup-less when the first cold front hits and I’m out of fresh tomatoes. When I have to go running sheepishly back to Campbell’s, which I inevitably will, I hope its familiarity will overwhelm the inevitable disappointment. And maybe that will be the time to break out the grilled cheese croutons.

just over 2 lbsRecipe: Fresh Tomato Soup
makes approximately 16 oz, or 2 bowls and 4 small cups

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total 
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, including seeds (optional)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion. Slice the jalapeno (seeds and all if you like) and the ginger, and add them, too. Sweat them until the onion is cooked through and golden.

I didn't have any fresh ginger, and can't even imagine how awesome it would have been with it will look nothing like soup to start off

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar and salt and cook over medium to medium high heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down.

a little hard to tell because of all the steam, but it looks kind of like a very soupy pasta sauceI ended up with about 1/2 cup solids to discard

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Don’t forget to scrape the solids off the bottom of the sieve. Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning.

about 2 1/2 lbs--it looks like a lot more, but these were much smallerRecipe: Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup (adapted from Allrecipes)
makes approximately 30 oz—2-3 big servings or 5-6 small ones

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total
  • 1 T. cooking oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 1 small onion, or half of a large one
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2-3 T. fresh or 2-3 t. dried herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, sage, tarragon, and/or rosemary
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • more salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion and crush the garlic. Sweat them in the hot oil until the onion is cooked through and golden.

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar, salt, and herbs and cook over medium to medium high heat for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down and beginning to get thick and saucy.

everything in the pot after 30 minutes of simmering

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a separate bowl.

5. Melt the butter in an empty saucepan. Whisk in the flour until no lumps remain and then gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition until smooth—add just a few tablespoons at a time for about the first cup, and then add the rest in a steady stream. Heat until steaming, and beginning to bubble gently at the edges but not yet boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

flour whisked into the butter a few additions of milk, roux will be very thick

6. Whisk the strained tomato into the milk, taste and adjust seasoning.

still swirling together