No food speaks to our hearts like tomato soup. With the first spoonful, childhood days rush back and fill us with warm memories. Paired with grilled cheese sandwiches, nothing fills your tummy and soul like tomato soup. Try changing it up a bit by roasting the tomatoes first with garlic and onions. You will have a more refined, grown up flavor that you and your family will love!
In addition to boosting the flavor of soups, roasting is the perfect way to prepare vegetables for parties. You can prep them ahead of time and pop them in the oven when your guests arrive. By the time you are ready to sit down to dinner the vegetables will be golden, softened, and full of flavor. Roasting brings out their sweetness, lightly caramelizing their natural sugars. It develops depths of flavors you never knew vegetables could have. And it does it all without requiring your attention at the stove!
Try roasting other vegetables too. Cauliflower and broccoli are a natural combination. Roasted potatoes and other root vegetables with rosemary are a great accompaniment to grilled meats. Cooking carrots and apples together is perfect for the fall and winter. You may discover that your children are more willing to try roasted veggies because the flavors are softened and you can enhance them with herbs, spices, and other seasonings.
If you don’t already own one, this is a good time to have a high-quality roasting pan. Heavy, with handles and tall sides, it is one of the true workhorses of the kitchen, and you will use it over and over for many years to come. I am still using pans that belonged to my mother and grandmother! This is another case where investing in high quality cookware will save you money in the long run and you’ll have tools to pass along to the next generation of cooks in your family.
At this time of year the tomatoes we find in the grocery store don’t have much flavor but roasting them will help that a lot. And if you can’t find any decent ones, you can even use canned tomatoes. Buy them whole, strain the juice reserving that for the soup, and place the whole tomatoes on your roasting pan as directed below. Adding fresh or dried herbs gives a lot of depth and using other vegetables like onions and bell peppers also give the tomatoes a fresher flavor. I use this technique all year long, but it is especially helpful during the cold winter months.
For those of you who have never experienced roasted garlic, now is the time to discover how transformative it is. The sharp bite disappears and is replaced by the sweetest, mellowest garlic you have ever had. It is so mild that you can easily smear it straight onto bread and eat it. None of the harshness remains. Once you’ve had roasted garlic, it is hard to go back to raw.
And for the piece de resistance, I give you cheese crostini! Crostini is simply toasted bread slices – my favorite bread to use is a baguette. Slice it fairly thinly on a slight diagonal angle to increase the surface area, brush with olive oil, and toast until golden brown. Don’t get them too dark because you are going to cook them longer once you add the cheese on top. Sprinkle with shredded cheese of your choice, anything from Swiss and Gruyere to Sharp Cheddar, mild Monterey Jack, or even Havarti. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling. When you float these in the bowl, it is like going back to childhood and having a grilled cheese sandwich with your Campbell’s tomato soup! Warm yourself up with a big, steaming bowl and enjoy a wonderful vegetarian meal!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you want pure tomato puree, you can leave out the onions and garlic. I also like to use the roasted tomatoes for impromptu pasta dinners. Pour a lot of oil over the tomatoes, roast them, and store covered with the oil in the refrigerator up to a week. When you’re ready to make dinner, cook the pasta and toss with some of the tomatoes and oil. YUM! The oil is also wonderful in salad dressings.
Kitchen Skill: Using a Food Mill
A food mill is the easiest way to remove skins and seeds from fruits and vegetables. Your food mill comes with a series of plates; for this application you want the one with the smallest holes. Set the food mill over a large bowl and add some of the tomatoes. Turn the handle clockwise, crushing the vegetables and pressing them through the plate. Occasionally turn the handle the opposite direction to loosen any pulp that may be stuck. Continue to add vegetables and the juices until you’ve pureed everything. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom of the food mill to remove all the delicious puree clinging there.
Food mills are perfect for mashing potatoes, making applesauce, creating homemade baby food, and pureeing other cooked fruits and vegetables. The beauty of the food mill is that you don’t have to peel anything first!
- For the Soup
- 2 sheet pans full of ripe fresh tomatoes or whole canned tomatoes, drained with the liquid reserved
- 1 head of garlic (a head is comprised of dozens of individual cloves of garlic)
- 2 large onions, peeled
- 1/2 cup or more of good quality olive oil
- Fresh basil leaves or thyme sprigs
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Tomato juice, vegetable stock, or chicken stock, if needed
- For the Crostini
- 1 large French or sour baguette
- About 4 to 6 oz of grated cheese such as Swiss, Gruyere, Smoked Gouda, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, Sharp Cheddar or Colby
- Olive oil for brushing
- 4 to 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, optional
- Special Equipment:
- Non-reactive stainless steel roasting pans or baking sheets
- Food mill
- Prepare the vegetables: Preheat oven to 425°F. Set one rack second to the bottom and one on the second to the top.
- Remove the cores of the tomatoes, leave them whole or slice in half lengthwise. Place them in the roasting pans, packing them loosely.
- Cut the top third off the head of garlic, cut it in half and place half in the center of the tomatoes on each tray. Cut the root ends off the onions and quarter them. Add them to the tomatoes. Tuck the herbs throughout, saving some for a garnish if you want. Pour the olive oil liberally over the top and season well with salt and pepper.
- Roast vegetables in the lower part of the hot oven until they soften and just start to brown, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes you’re using. Stir them occasionally so they don’t stick to the pan.
- Prepare the crostini: slice the bread into 1/2-inch slices and brush both sides with some olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt if desired. Lay on a baking sheet and place on the rack above the vegetables. You can bake them while the vegetables are finishing. Bake until they pieces are light golden brown. Remove vegetables and crostini from the oven and increase the heat to broil.
- Sprinkle each crostini with some of the fresh thyme leaves if desired (stripped off the stems.) Top each piece with some of the cheese and put under the broiler until melted and lightly browned. Keep warm in a low oven while you finish making the soup.
- Meanwhile, set up your food mill, using the plate with the smallest holes. It will help remove nearly all of the seeds from the tomatoes as well as the skins. Set it over a large, deep bowl.
- Make the soup: Remove the pan from the oven and working in batches, carefully transfer the vegetables to the food mill. Turn the handle clockwise to force the vegetables under the angled blade and through the plate. The juices and some of the pulp will fall into the bowl below while the skins and seeds will be left behind. If you prefer, after you’ve pureed the vegetables in the food mill you can then transfer to a blender or food processor or use an immersion/stick blender for a smoother texture. Add some of the tomato juice, vegetable or chicken stock if needed to increase the amount of liquid. It is hard to say how much you will need, if any, because it depends on the type and juiciness of the tomatoes. Sometimes you will get a lot, and sometimes less. Taste and use your best judgment.
- Reheat if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings, ladle into warmed bowls, and garnish with cheese-covered crostini, either floating in the soup or alongside.