Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tomato Planting Time

This is the time of the year we plant tomatoes. I plant these religiously every year because there is no better tomato that one from your own garden. Only the freshest farmers market can compare and they sometimes can be pricey, especially for heirlooms. I usually don't even bother with "fresh" tomatoes in the winter because they don't seem to have any taste at all. I like waiting for fresh seasonal foods. It is when they are the best and I believe that "good things come to those who wait". I am patient and for me it is worth it - in taste and price. I love how each season is characterized, in part, by the veggies and fruits that are available at that time.

I love planting this:
And getting this:

This year, I have planted Sun Gold (large yellow cherry-type tomato), Goldie (large yellow tomato), Green Zebra and Granny Cantrells (both green tomatoes). The Sun Gold's, we eat right off the vine and had so many(from one plant) that we dried a bunch. My were they ever good! Anything they were added to were simply blessed with their delicious flavor. The Goldies can be huge like Brandywines and were mostly made into salads and bruschetta with toasts with tangy goat cheese. I can't even tell you how much I love this combination and would like one now - but I am willing to wait. Now the Zebras and Cantrells I haven'y had that much of and am looking for recipes and ideas. The first year I grew the Zebras, the yield was only a few so that is a work in progress. I am still going to plant a Brandywine tomato plant because I need at least one red tomato and this is a good one. If I have room I would plant different plum tomatoes because they are perfect for sauces and salsas and drying but they are abundant at the farmers markets and I love supporting our area farmers.

The first tomatoes have actually arrived at our farmers market. It is still too early for tomato season (this is the northeast) and so they were probably grown in a greenhouse. The summer sun has not done its ripening job that produces the delicious, tasty tomato that shows up in the throws of summer and into October. These tomatoes are pesticide free and grown near by, so I could not wait another minute. I have a quest. Tomato soup. I bought several for my favorite raw tomato pasta and about 4 to 5 lbs of seconds. Although, I am not sure why some of them were seconds because only a couple had tiny bruises.

I love seconds for recipes like tomato sauce and salsa. Recently, I have tried roasted, smoked and plain tomato soup at different restaurants. Some made with herbs and some without. They were all tasty and have intrigued me to make my own versions. It is interesting that I have never really eaten or made tomato soup myself considering how delicious and easy it was to make. Tomato soup was not a part of my childhood, the grilled cheese part yes, but not tomato soup. Maybe it was because I was a picky eater when I was a kid and hardly ate anything anyway. All that has changed.

Here is my first recipe for tomato soup:

Roasted Tomato Soup
First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I cut up these very large tomatoes (probably about 5 pounds) into quarters and placed them skin side down on a sheet pan and drizzled them with good olive oil. I generously salted and peppered them. I used kosher salt and fresh ground Indian tellycherry peppercorns (this is what I usually use for everyday cooking). I sliced the very top of my garlic bulb to expose the very ends of the cloves to olive oil and added a sprinkling of salt and pepper and wrapped it in foil. I was a pretty large head of garlic so it need to cook longer than just a single clove.  They were all roasted at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes.

I tossed in a full garlic head because I am going to make roasted garlic butter for toast with my soup. We have a fabulous baker at our farmer's market that sells delicious multi-grain and whole wheat breads. How awesome is that?! If I was only making garlic for the soup, I would throw in 3 or 4 large gloves for about 20 minutes with the tomatoes at the end of the cooking time.

In my favorite soup pot, (you've got one too, right?!) I sauteed a medium yellow, chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Tossed in 1/2 teaspoon of cracked red pepper flakes. When the onion was just translucent, I added the roasted tomatoes and half of the head of roasted garlic. You just squeeze them out of their papery skins and drop them in with the tomatoes. Add 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth (the amount depends on how thick you like your soup. start with 4 now and add more after you puree) and bring the soup to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  I pureed the soup in a food processor to a thick consistency and a little chunky.   (of course, you can use a blender - just watch out for the exploding factor. If you don't allow for heat expansion it will explode, seriously it will explode.  Take my word for it!  Fill the blender about halfway, take the top piece out of the lid, cover it with a kitchen towel and it will work just fine.)

If you want the skins removed, use a food mill or remove them before roasting. I tend to leave the peels on because who wants to spend the time peeling tomatoes if you don't have to. I do think there is a subtle difference in taste though. The soup seems a little heartier with the skins on and more delicate without. That could be an illusion in my head, but I am going to stick with it. Remember, I am a home cook and time is relative! If no one else notices, what am I doing all that extra work for?

Return the puree to the pot and add the salt and pepper, taste and then add the cream. Bring the soup to a simmer and you are done! I chopped up some fresh basil and put it on top for a garnish and flavor.

Suggestions:  Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Almost any fresh herb will go well with this soup, such as basil, parsley, thyme, oregano (not too much this is a strong herb) or marjoram, chives - so any herb you like . . .


Roasted Tomato Soup

5 to 6 lbs of fresh tomatoes
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of cracked red pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 fresh ground black pepper
4 to 6 cups of unsalted or low salt chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve or quarter the tomatoes and place them skin side down.  Drizzle olive oil over them and liberally salt and pepper them.   Place them in the oven for 30 minutes.  Toss the garlic cloves onto the roasting pan with tomatoes and cook for 20 more minutes.

After the tomatoes are finished roasting, get out your favorite soup pot!  Add olive oil, chopped onion, cracked pepper and saute until the onions are just translucent   Add the roasted tomatoes and all the juices and 4 cups of the stock.  Squeeze the garlic out of their skins into the soup pot.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Puree in a food processor in batches(or a blender but fill the blender about halfway, take the top piece out of the lid, cover it with a kitchen towel and then blend).  Return to soup pot, add cream and salt and pepper.  This is when I would add more stock to get the consistency right for your liking.

Add a drizzle of very good olive oil and chopped basil (or any other herb you like) to finish the soup and enjoy.
Printable recipe

Nutritional tidbits on tomatoes: Lycopene is a big! It is believed that lycopene (chemically a carotene but not related to vitamin A activity) is found in red fruits and vegetables and slows down the oxidation of cell walls in the body. This is a good thing. This reduction in the oxidation of cell walls may decrease cancer risks, reduce aging (did I say reduce aging, yes I did, you gotta love those antioxidants) and reduce heart disease. Lycopene is fat soluble so it is absorbed better if there is fat present. This is your chance to add some extra virgin olive oil - how bad can that be. Match made in heaven in my book. It is a known antioxidant and that is a good thing.

Canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes both are a good source for lycopene and cooking the tomato helps with absorption into the body. Remember this is only a tidbit, there are lots of other nutritional components of tomatoes such as fiber and Vitamin C. We will save those for another day.

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