Monday, September 12, 2011
Provencal tomato soup with rice
I've previously stated that there is no finer way to eat a tomato than salted on toast with a little smear of mayonnaise, and I stand by that. However, this soup is pretty damn tasty too.
When I think of tomatoes, I think of Italy. Mario Batali never cooks with fresh tomatoes, he only prepares them raw or very nearly raw. In all of his soups and sauces, he uses canned San Marzanos. There's a Mark Bittman recipe I plan to try this winter that actually has you roast canned whole tomatoes in the oven for a bit before making the soup, which sounds really good, but Central Market still has mounds and mounds of gorgeous fabulous fragrant local tomatoes... I just couldn't pass up trying to make a soup with them. Guidance from the Italians seeming out, I turned my attention to the French.
I was looking for something with a little more rib-stickiness (a technical term) than plain ole tomato soup, so when I stumbled upon this version containing rice, my eyes lit up. I modified slightly based on the reviews and it turned out wonderfully. The Provencal flavors are subtle, but lovely. The orange zest and saffron perfume the whole dish, you can almost smell them more than you taste them. But ultimately, the tomatoes are the star (as it should be), exalted by the supporting cast.
There is a little prep involved in blanching, cooling, peeling and seeding the tomatoes, but that's the majority of the work. After that it all comes together very easily.
3 lb beautiful ripe local tomatoes (about 6 large)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 large rib celery, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
zest of about 1/3 of an orange, microplaned (if you don't have one, get one. But if you're in a bind, you can peel just the orange skin off the orange (leaving behind all the bitter white pith) and mince it really finely with a knife)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped off the stems
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 Turkish bay leaf
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups water
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
Set a large pot of water on to boil. While you're waiting, chop your onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and set aside. Also, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. When your water is boiling, cut an "x" into the bottom of each tomato and drop them into the water for about a minute. Remove them to the ice bath and let them cool for a minute or two, until the skins split, then peel them. Slice them in half horizontally and squeeze the seeds out into a strainer placed over a bowl, so that you reserve all the juices. At this point, rather than chop the now very messy tomatoes on my board and lose some juice, I just mangled the flesh by squeezing it through my fingers right into the bowl, removing the cores as I came upon them.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sweat the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic with the orange zest, thyme, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and bay leaf with a pinch of kosher salt until softened, 6 or 7 minutes. Then add the tomatoes with their juice, tomato paste, water, chicken stock, saffron, and sugar. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover, allowing to cook for half an hour or so. Now, decide how chunky you want your soup. I blitzed mine with the immersion blender until somewhat smooth, but still chunky enough to tell the ingredients apart. So, get it where you want it texture-wise, then add the rice and allow to simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked (about 20 minutes). Stir the basil through and don't forget to discard the bay leaf.
Serves 6, takes a little over an hour, mostly hands-off.