What is it about the fall season that makes us think warmer thoughts, happier thoughts, starry-eyed thoughts of family members we love, friends we miss, memories that make us smile? Is it the cold weather outside that sends us inside more often, into home, a place that’s supposed to be warm and cozy and cherished? Is it the promise of a holiday season, full of sparkle and joy, laughter, and shared moments? I’m not sure what it is. But I know that for me, sitting here at my desk, gazing through the window at a sidewalk overflowing with heaps of newly fallen leaves, sipping a steaming cup of tea, my thoughts easily wander back in time.
For a number of years when I was a kid, my family was lucky enough to own a second home in Chautauqua, New York—a postcard of a place full of hundred-year-old Victorian houses, an open air amphitheater for community lectures and symphony concerts, a mile of waterfront on the lake, and a town plaza bookended by a brick library and clapboard town market. When you’re from California, beautiful in its own right but 3,000 miles away from New England in nearly every possible way, places like Chautauqua are nothing short of magical. Especially when covered in a beautiful sheet of newly fallen snow.
It was here that my Grandma Eva first made tomato corn chowder for my sister and me, two blonde-haired little girls waiting patiently at the formica table that sat along the only bare wall in our tiny kitchen. It was just after Christmas one year, I don’t remember exactly when, and Grandma had come to Chautauqua with us for the week. We all loved that place, but I always had a sense that our time there was truly something special for Grandma. You see, Grandma’s family was from French Canada before they moved down to Connecticut, years before she and my grandfather moved their family out to California. So while I’ve never actually asked Grandma about this, I have a feeling there’s quite a bit of the Northeast left in her. Maybe what gave it away was her secret “snow candy”–a pot full of freshly fallen snow, drizzled with a mixture of maple syrup and brown sugar that instantly hardens as it hits the cold snow. Or maybe it was watching her wander down the snow-covered street in her fur-lined winter jacket, soaking in the peaceful quiet that seemed to transport her to another time.
Over the years, tomato soup with grilled cheese has become my quintessential comfort food for when I’m sick, or tired, or cold, or just craving something that is wholly satisfying and chock full of memory. Grandma’s tomato soup was a mid-20th century version of canned Campbell’s tomato soup and creamed corn. Truth be told, my taste for tomato soup has grown up just as I have. Today I prefer something a little more sophisticated, but no less satisfying. Roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, thick cream, a sprinkling of spicy red pepper. This version takes a little more time in the kitchen, but it’s worth every minute. Just one spoonful of it and I’m right back at that little formica table.
Creamy Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Adapted from spoon fork bacon
This soup will warm you through and through, especially if you add a touch of spicy heat. It’s creamy yet not overly thick, and the thickness is entirely up to you! Blend as little or as much as you’d like. And if you want a little something extra, top this soup off with a sprinkling of your favorite goat cheese. The tang of the cheese with the sweetness of the tomatoes is delicious. Serve this with a thick slice of toast, or, if you’re in my house, a thick, buttery, decadent grilled cheese.
1 1/2 lbs tomatoes, sliced lengthwise (top to bottom, not through the middle)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 packed cups basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for roasting tomatoes
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper, plus more for roasting tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Drizzle olive oil on the tin foil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread tomato halves onto the baking sheet and rub each sufficiently with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast tomatoes for 1 hour, flesh side facing up, until they’re sizzling.
3. While tomatoes are in the oven, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and thyme to the pot and sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Add crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, dried basil, sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to the pot. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, covered.
5. Pour broth and roasted tomatoes, with their juices, into the pot. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
6. Continue to simmer soup, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Remove the pot from the stove and blend with an immersion blender, leaving some chunks of tomato intact. If you want a smoother soup, blend to your heart’s content! If you don’t have an immersion blender, carefully pour the soup into a blender, leaving the hole in the top open, and blend until smooth.
8. Pour the soup back into the pot and stir in the cream until fully incorporated. Simmer the soup for 3 minutes before serving.