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Sunday, November 30, 2008

tomato soup with croutons

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It snowed ALL NIGHT last night here in Anchorage! We got about a foot of snow, and it’s STILL SNOWING!!  Until a few days ago, I’d been cross-country skiing on the Hillside trails, and due to our meager snow cover, I’d quickly made a pair of rock skis out of my best pair of skis.  (They are six years old, though…)  *sigh*  I know what will be on my Christmas list this year! Anyway, according to my brother, Ben (the manager of Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking), it’s high time I updated my gear from the Pleistocene era. He says that I should try the latest technology…  skinnier tips, less shaping in the middle (or is that wider tips and more shaping in the middle?). 

So after a leisurely Sunday breakfast (Meredith helped her dad make pancakes), Dan and I discussed the day. We decided that I would have the first ski shift. (We trade off with Meredith when we both want to ski solo.)  He and Meredith would plow the driveway and our road up to the top of the hill, then I would scoot out in our little front-wheel-drive Jetta station wagon and zip over to Hillside for a slow and lovely trample around the trails. I got dressed and set off, my windshield wipers flailing at the thick clouds of snowflakes already obscuring Dan’s plow swath. My trusty little Jetta made it up the hill—and in fact, although none of the roads were plowed except for Dan’s handiwork, I made it the three miles to the trailhead at the high school. At which point, my little car plowed uphill into the huge berm of snow across the entrance to the parking lot and got firmly stuck. Whoops! I tried backing out, into the relatively clear main road, but I was completely high-centered! While my Jetta has great traction, it doesn’t have very high clearance. So I spent the next half hour on my belly, wishing I’d brought a shovel, burrowing packed snow out from under my car with my gloved hands. I managed to back the car out in stages, foot by foot.  When I was about four feet from the road, two nice guys from the nearby sledding hill walked over and shoved me the rest of the way out. Thank you!!

I anxiously drove right home, luckily without incident, passing several cars embedded in their own snowdrifts, and zipped back into the garage. SAFE! Dan and Meredith, by this time making a snowman, were surprised to see me home so soon, but I soon re-emerged from the house with my gear. I popped my skis on, strapped on my poles, and skied off up the driveway! I had a gorgeous slog/ski on the bike trail through my neighborhood, and all the way back to the Hillside trails, where I did a short loop and then trudged my slow and snowy way back!

Here’s what I ate for lunch when I got home! It’s the perfect warming meal for a snowy day.

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tomato soup with croutons

This tomato soup is a revelation: it’s yummy, creamy and rich without any cream or butter in it! It’s based on a recipe in Peter Berley’s book The Flexitarian Table. I think it makes a difference to use really good canned tomatoes and tomato paste, and I like Muir Glen. Another reason I love this recipe is because I can use gobs of local Alaskan carrots and onions! For a meal, serve this soup with any kind of a simple green vegetable or savory salad. I like to make a double batch and then freeze the extras for a fast meal later, when I’m cold and hungry!

You can just toast the bread in the toaster for the croutons, and cut it into cubes (that’s what I did today!), or you can get fancy and make the garlicky croutons if you aren’t already starving-hungry, and can wait 20 minutes for them to toast in the oven.

The Soup

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced onions (3-4 medium)
sea salt or kosher salt
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 medium carrots (peeled if the skins are tough), sliced
large pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes or diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water (I use broth left over from cooking white beans with onion and garlic)
two 2-inch strips of orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon dried sage

1. I slice the onions and carrots in the food processor—this is especially time-saving if you’re doing a double batch of soup. Just cut off the stem end of the carrots and push them down through the narrow feed tube, pushing with the pusher cup.
2. In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onions have softened—5 minutes or so. Add the garlic cloves, carrots, and pepper flakes, lower the heat, cover, and cook until the vegetables are sweet and juicy and tender, but not browned, 20 minutes or so. Check and stir occasionally, adding a few tablespoons of water if the vegetables are dry.
3. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the stock or water, orange zest and sage and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove the pot from the heat and discard the orange zest. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender. It’s easiest to do this if you’ve let the soup cool for a while first. Season with salt if you like, but I didn’t find it necessary because of the salt already added to the onions and in the canned tomatoes. Reheat the soup before serving, and add water to thin the soup if it seems too thick.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with croutons, and serve.

The Croutons

5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.

 


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