Saturday, November 12, 2005

Roasted Tomato Soup

This summer I grew a measly tomato garden. My poor excuse for a front yard (a 10 ft x 10 ft patch of weeds and malnourished dirt) is obstructed by a large tree and receives little light. So I did the next best thing and planted 5 large plastic tubs with fresh, nourishing dirt, the little tomato plants I had started inside, and stuck them on the small cement walkway between my house and my neighbor's which receives barely more light. They grew slow and I would walk down my block to gaze longingly at other gardens. These other gardens contained plump bulging specimens of peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. There were so many tomatoes in one garden, that the older man who lives there (I have often seen him working in his garden) set a basket of his ripening tomatoes on his windowsill that overlooks his garden, grabbing at them as desired. I would poke my fingers through his chicken wire, attempting to touch the magic, hoping some of it would rub off onto my hands and into my tomatoes.

Not that I am a bad gardener. I am quite good. As a child, this was the route (the plastic tubs) I took to growing my own garden on the small, sunny porch off my bedroom. (I lived in front of woods and often lost crop to deer and other foragers until I moved my garden upstairs.) But the key is sunlight, which I receive little of here on my Astoria plot. So little light, I have contemplated growing lights and moving the whole operation indoors.

This summer was not only a battle with the sun or the intense heat it was the meddlers-- the squirrels and neighborhood hooligans who think stealing a young woman's homegrown tomatoes is funny business. I would stare out my window at the few reddening globes, debating whether to pick it before the squirrels got their chance. I would say, "one more day," and would walk outside the next morning to find my prize had disappeared. The neighborhood hooligans, I now suspect, are not teenagers, but older women. I say this because I saw one just yesterday stealing some of my mums from the front patch. I was so befuddled that I could not even knock on the window to alert her to my watching. I could not believe someone's grandmother was stealing my mums and stuffing them quickly into her plastic bag purse. Was this the same woman that walked by a few months earlier while I was tending my tomatoes, paused and said, "oh, what beautiful tomatoes you have my dear"?!

But I still love tomato soup with some good cheese and bread on the side (grilled cheese even) for dipping. This recipe is a perfect spicy garlic-basil blend that smells amazing while cooking and goes well with a glass of wine (I had mine with an inexpensive, but good, Mondavi Merlot). Never be afraid to make too much soup. After eating, I like to store mine in single serving size tupperware and freeze them. When I'm going into work I grab some fruit, whatever soup is handy, stop by the bakery for some fresh bread and there is lunch. The soup is frozen so it does not escape the container and tastes even better warmed up. Plus, whomever is nearby that can smell the creation always asks where it was purchased. Sorry, this is homemade, and they walk away sulking.

Serving Size: 6; 1 hr
3 lbs (about 9 medium sized) tomatoes, quartered and stemmed but not deseeded
12 large garlic cloves, peeled and whole
1/4 cup + 2 Tbl ev olive oil
1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1 large white onion, chopped
2-1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil
1- 15 oz can unsalted/ unseasoned tomato sauce
kosher salt/ fresh ground pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 450F. In a pyrex baking dish (or other non-reactive baking dish), lay out the quartered tomatoes, pour 1/4 cup olive oil and the balsamic vinegar over the top, and sprinkle the garlic around the mixture. Dust with salt/ pepper to taste. Bake for 45 min, uncovered, until tomatoes begin to blacken in spots.
2) After 30 min of the tomatoes baking, warm a large pot over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the 2 Tbl ev olive oil and onions when warm. Sautee for 10 min until soft and clear. Add fresh basil and allow to wilt, about 2 min.
3) Add the tomato sauce and roasted tomatoes with juices to the pot. Turn up heat slightly and allow to simmer 10 min.
4) With a handheld cordless blender (or regular blender), puree the mixture until smooth. Return to heat and simmer another 10 min.
5) After dishing into bowls for serving, you can add a little cream or milk to cool the soup down and make it a little creamy. Alternatively, this would be good with a little goat cheese added to the bowls. Add a fresh basil leaf as garnish. Serve with good crusty bread, good cheese, some olives and a glass of wine.

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