Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spicy Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup

I love tomato soup! Over the years I've come across some amazing versions — from the delicate, creamy Tomato Bisque at the Blossom Dairy in Charleston, WV to the bold, olive oil fortified Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup at Uva 69 in Miami, FL. Oddly enough, I never made my own version until a couple weeks ago, but it was worth the wait. I used freshly roasted tomatoes, homemade chicken stock, fresh basil, red pepper, onions and garlic to create a rich and slightly spicy soup. I served it with olive oil-Parmesan croutons made from a loaf of sourdough I had on hand. Next time, I want to try it with mini grilled cheese sandwiches — fresh mozzarella grilled between half-inch baguette slices.

Spicy Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup

3–4 pounds of fresh tomatoes (I used a combination of Roma and Campari)
1/3 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoon
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can, 28-oz., whole peeled tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
2 large handfuls of fresh basil plus extra chiffonade* for garnish
2 teaspoons sugar
fresh ground pepper to taste
sea salt to taste (if needed at all)
good olive oil for drizzling
crusty bread or Parmesan croutons

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut tomatoes in half, toss with 1/3 cup olive oil, sea salt and fresh thyme. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 45 – 60 minutes.

While the tomatoes roast, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter in a large dutch oven or stock pot. Melt together on medium heat and add onion and red pepper flakes. Sauté until onions begin to soften and add garlic. Continue cooking until the onions just begin to caramelize. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow to cook about 5 minutes longer. Add the canned tomatoes and chicken stock and allow to simmer until the roasted tomatoes are ready. Add the roasted tomatoes and all their juices and the fresh basil. Stir together and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Purée the soup with a hand immersion blender** until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and salt & pepper as needed to taste. Serve topped with a sprinkling of fresh basil and fresh thyme leaves, a drizzle of good olive oil and Parmesan croutons or crusty bread.

* Cut into fine ribbons
** You could also carefully process through a food mill or in a regular blender if you do not have an immersion blender, but I have found the immersion blender to be an exceptional tool. You can pick up a basic model for $25-$30 and a really nice one for $50-$60.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

I bought a copy of Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking from a used cookbook shop last year. I had always wanted a copy and it seemed only fitting to seek out a treasured old copy that had, hopefully, inspired cooks before me. I read through the book and referenced it on several occasions, but never made a complete recipe until this past weekend. I chose to make Coq Au Vin and it was a such a wonderful experience. I am generally the kind of cook who doesn't follow the recipes. I like to forge my own way and cook by instinct. But it was as though I could hear Julia's voice as I read each line of the recipe — like a link back in time to 1950's Paris when Julia first began her culinary career. I followed every step and made her suggested side dishes: Brown Braised Onions and Sautéed Mushrooms. I am including her recipe for the onions because I found it to be an exciting new little technique that I will use again as a side to other meat dishes. For the Coq Au Vin recipe, I will leave it to you to pick up a copy of this elegant old classic cooking text. It is most important to read from the pages for the full effect.

Brown-Braised Onions

18–24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons oil

1/2 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water (I used homemade chicken stock diluted with a little water and a teaspoon of beef bouillon paste)

Salt & Pepper to taste
A medium her bouquet: 4 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied is a cheesecloth

When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Braise them as follows:
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, adn add the herb bouquet. Cover adn simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Serve them as they are or follow one of Julia's suggestions that follows this recipe in the book.

NOTE: Recipe taken from Mastering the Art of French Cooking By Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck; 1961