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Roasted Tomato Soup
By Charlie Burke

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I’m impressed with how simple roasting of fresh or canned tomatoes deepens
and enriches their flavor. It sounds more complicated, but it is actually simpler
than cooking them in a pot. I have made pasta sauces this way and always
wonder why I make them any other way, especially when fresh local tomatoes
are unavailable. The roasting process here is unchanged from making pasta or
pizza sauce, except that a few sliced cloves of garlic and a pinch of oregano or
marjoram are added then. As in the uncooked summer tomato sauce in the
archives, sea salt’s bright flavor makes a difference in this preparation.

Wanting something light and fresh to start Thanksgiving dinner, I came up
with this soup which has few ingredients but bursts with the intense flavor of
roasted tomatoes. Because it was a holiday dinner, fresh herb oil and flavored
croutons were added, but the soup is just fine on its own. A swirl of crème  
fraiche or heavy cream would work, as would a sprinkle of freshly chopped
basil or parsley. The acidity of the tomatoes is balanced with extra virgin olive
oil, much as it is used with vinegar or lemon in salad dressing, so more or less
will be used because acidity varies in tomatoes. I use only water in preparing
most vegetable soups, believing stocks can mask the flavor, but here half
chicken stock and half water is used to help mellow the sharpness of the
tomatoes.

Roasting a mix of fresh heirloom tomatoes raises this preparation a level, but
we use this roasting recipe all year. Use home canned tomatoes if available, but
high quality commercially canned tomatoes are processed at the peak of their
flavor and are of excellent quality. When local fresh or canned tomatoes are
unavailable, we use domestic organic canned tomatoes, which are the closest to
fresh that we have found.

Six – eight first course servings:

2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes, or equivalent amount of fresh
¾ cup water
¾ cup chicken stock
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
½ cup finely chopped shallot or yellow onion (use onion for pasta sauce)
Sea salt or kosher salt, 3 teaspoons or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread oil over the bottom of a shallow baking
dish, such as a Pyrex 9 ½” by 13 ½ “, and pour in tomatoes and juices. Mix in
shallots and salt and pepper and drizzle the top with olive oil. Cook for 35 – 45
minutes or until juices have thickened and slight charring has occurred.

Let cool slightly, then blend in a food processor or pass through a food mill
using the finest disk. Roasting seems to soften the seeds to where they are
barely noticeable, so, unless you want a very smooth texture, using the
processor is certainly acceptable. Correct seasoning and, if the flavor is too
sharp or acidic, whisk in additional olive oil until flavors balance.

Fresh herb oil:

1 cup fresh parsley or basil
¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup canola oil

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend on high for 20 – 30 seconds. Use
immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days (oil will separate with
storage but comes together easily when whisked).

Croutons:

2 cups crusty bread cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pinch cayenne
Salt and ground pepper
1 pinch cumin (optional)

Heat oil and garlic cloves over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. When oil
shimmers, add bread, tossing to coat with oil. Sprinkle on remaining
ingredients and cook, tossing frequently, until golden. Discard garlic.

To Serve:

Reheat soup and blend with a whisk. Drizzle with herb oil and serve croutons
on the side.

This festive soup is colorful and full of flavor and can be made a few days
ahead. The green and red are perfect for Christmas dinner but its preparation is
simple enough for every day meals, so try roasting tomatoes for this recipe or
for rich pasta and pizza sauces, and you may never boil tomato sauce in a pot
again!

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Roasted Tomato Soup
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