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Thursday, October 14, 2010

wintertime roasted tomato soup

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We took a couple of weeks’ break in between our two bakery seasons: after we finish baking our bread for the farmers market, we start our wintertime gig, selling bread over the website and delivering on Wednesdays. This year we flew to Washington D.C. for a double-decker family vacation!

It was a country-mouse/city-mouse experience—first we went to rural Maryland for a week to stay with Dan’s mom and stepdad, and had a wonderful time. We rode bikes on the gently rolling roads, went boating on the St. Mary’s River, swam in the beautiful new pool at the college nearby, and went running on the local trails. Despite the monsoon that was washing out roads and flooding houses, we remained cheerful. After all, it was still warmer than Anchorage!! And we could soak in the hot tub after our wet bike rides. And cold weather is great for cooking! Butternut squash and apples from a local farmstand made great soup, and zucchinis and tomatoes were wonderful grilled (the former) and sautéed and eaten on toast (the latter).

Then for the city-mouse portion of our adventure! My amazing and wonderful mother-in-law and stepdad-in-law, Karen and Chris, had happily agreed to keep six-year-old Meredith with them for four nights and five days while Dan and I went to Washington D.C. on our own! Chris even provided the shuttle service to Washington, two hours away. This was our very first getaway vacation for Dan and I together, and I’m not sure who had more fun, the Maryland crew or the D.C. crew. Suffice it to say that Dan and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and now that we’re home, Meredith is periodically melting down in tears because she misses her grandma so much.

Dan and I stayed in a little ground-floor studio apartment in a row house on Capitol Hill, only about a fifteen-minute walk from the Mall. So perfect! We had a great time seeing the monuments, some museums, lots of gardens, and most of all, eating at some incredibly wonderful restaurants. Oh my goodness, that was the best part! The first night, we had reservations to eat at Komi, which is one of those restaurants you have to try for a reservation a month in advance, but we only started trying a week in advance. (Thank you again, Karen, for persevering on the phone, waiting out those busy signals!) The only reservation we could get was at 9pm, and we took it! We called Meredith as we were having drinks in our apartment, waiting until we could catch a cab to the restaurant, and she reported excitedly that she had eaten hotdogs for dinner!  (and vegetables!) Unbeknownst to us, we were also destined to eat hotdogs—because in the middle of our fabulous tasting menu at Komi, they brought out a tiny, spicy “hotdog” of house-made sausage topped with chipotle ketchup and mustard, served in a fresh-baked bun. It was a playful homage to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution (of which I’d never heard). Anyway, we all enjoyed our hotdogs!!

The strangest thing we did was visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a National Park located deep in the heart of Anacostia. Dan told me, and our cab driver agreed, that this would not have been a safe destination when Dan had lived in D.C. as a teenager. Even though the crack wars were no longer waging, our cab driver was concerned that we’d not get a driver to come back and pick us up. We had a lovely morning wandering through first the ponds with exotic lilies blooming over gigantic prickly lily pads, and then experiencing the last remaining native D.C. swamp on a mile-long trail, seeing egrets and blue herons, reeds and rushes and bogs and river sloughs, with the occasional background noise of sirens. A little bit surreal! And a cab driver DID come to pick us up, after all!!

One of the things I love about Washington, D.C. is that I didn’t feel like a dork being a tourist there. Because there are SO MANY TOURISTS there! From all over the world! I haven’t spent that much time in big cities, but when I do, I usually feel like I’ve just fallen off the back of a turnip truck: so unsophisticated and not wearing nearly enough black. But in Washington, I just felt welcomed. The people working at the museums and parks and gardens were happy to receive us as interested visitors, and the servers and bartenders at our restaurants seemed delighted to have us, as excited and appreciative as we were for their phenomenal food and drinks. What a great city! I can’t wait to go back!

Now that we’re back in Anchorage, and it’s below freezing every morning, the order of the day is definitely warming soups and stews. This is a soup I made before I left and froze, and I’m really enjoying it now! It’s a tomato soup, but it’s different than the other one I’ve posted. You can never have too many tomato soup recipes up your sleeve! I think you’ll really like it, too! You can serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich, or with garlicky croutons!

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wintertime roasted tomato soup

I made this soup using the giant-size (6 pound, 6 ounce) cans of whole tomatoes from Costco. Yes, it makes a big batch, but it freezes really well, and that way you’ll have lots of leftovers to eat with a quick toasted cheese sandwich whenever you need a warming meal!!  This recipe is based on one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Even though there are a lot of vegetables to prep here, if you have a food processor, it’s really fast. Because the soup will get pureed, you can just slice everything thinly in your machine and not worry about dicing onions or carrots.

1 institutional-size can of whole tomatoes (6 lbs, 6 oz)
1 cup loosely packed dried tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil), about 2 ounces
olive oil
3 medium onions, halved
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons dried thyme
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Drain the canned tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Halve each tomato and put them on rimmed baking sheets, or in shallow roasting pans, or a combination. Drizzle with olive oil—a couple of tablespoons to ¼ cup, whatever you feel like. Roast in the oven, turning once or twice, until the tomatoes are dried and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes are roasting, slice the onions, carrots, and celery thinly—if you have a food processor, this is the time to use it!
3. When the tomatoes are done roasting, pour the dried tomatoes and their soaking liquid into the roasting pans. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, breaking up the tomatoes as you do so.
4. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion to the oil and cook until it begins to brown. Then add the garlic, carrot, and celery, and the thyme. Cook until the vegetables start to release their liquids. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Add the reserved liquid from the canned tomatoes, as well as 2 to 3 quarts of water, and the tomatoes from the roasting pans. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. As you cook it, you’ll probably need to add more water—just make sure there is plenty of liquid so it’s nice and soupy.
6. Let the soup cool until it’s not much hotter than room temperature, and then puree it in batches in your blender until it is nice and smooth. A hand-held immersion blender really doesn’t do a good enough job here—it’s got to go in the blender to get really smooth, with all those dried tomatoes and celery bits and carrots.
7. Put some of the soup in the freezer (well-labeled) for later, and return the portion that you’re going to eat to the stove and heat until bubbling.
8. Make the garlickly croutons, below, or a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoy!

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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