Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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Well, we’ve been into fall for three whole days now – can you believe my restraint in not posting 100 pumpkin recipes already? We’re still in that in-between stage, weather wise, but even though it’s not quite soup season, it’s still tomato season and I have a lot of tomatoes to use up.  We’re now twenty months into this blog and this is my tenth soup recipe – far and away my biggest “category.” But really, can you think of a better one-pot meal to get you through the cold and rainy months looming on the horizon?  My barista told me this morning he’s been waiting for the rain for the past five months – by February I’ll deny saying this, but I’m kind of with him, and this soup is one of the main reasons why.

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I thought I had found my favorite tomato soup many years ago – it’s easy, it’s (relatively) healthy, it lets me use up all of the tomatoes I have coming out my ears in August, and it’s from the Barefoot Contessa so you know it’s delicious.  But after making it a couple dozen times over the past month or so, I thought I would mix things up and look for a couple new recipes. And what do you suppose I found? Another Barefoot Contessa option.  It’s not radically different from the first one, but she roasts the tomatoes before adding them to the soup and it really deepens the tomato flavor.  And it calls for white onions rather than red, which means you can use the bags of pre-chopped onions from Trader Joe’s (I’ll do almost anything to avoid chopping onions). Ina never disappoints.

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Roasting is a great way to use up any tomatoes you may have leftover from your summer harvest – simply roast them with oiive oil, salt and pepper, freeze them (with their juices), and then use them for soup all winter long.  And once you run out of frozen tomatoes, roasting the not-so-delicious varieties that they sell at the supermarket in January will make them taste (almost) as good as your home grown ones. I think the basil also makes this soup extra yummy – it calls for sixteen times the amount of basil that the other soup does (sixteen times!! I did this math a couple times just to make sure that’s correct). I initially thought maybe the “four cups” was a typo – but it’s not and it’s amazing. You don’t even have to chop it, just pull the leaves from the stems and dump them in. Don’t skimp on the basil if you can help it (I did a full four cups the first time I made this and it was delicious, and then I was a little short the second time and while of course it was still yummy, I wished I had made the effort to go back to the store and get another bag).

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Add a can of tomatoes (San Marzano is ideal), a box of chicken stock (veggie stock or water to make it vegetarian), the basil and thyme, and then dump in the roasted tomatoes – including all the oil and juices that accumulated in the pan. Simmer for 40 minutes or so and then blend – you don’t even have to add cream (put the calories you save towards your grilled cheese). Ina tells you to use a food mill, but I don’t have one so I use my immersion blender. I suspect a Vitamix would work great as well, or a regular blender or food processor. This soup will freeze nicely – so I would suggest making a double batch, some for now and some for later. You’ll thank me the next time it’s nasty outside and you’re craving a grilled cheese and tomato soup (per the forecast, next week). Happy soup season!

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One year ago: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin granola 

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, cream of fresh tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, roasted sweet potato and apple, red lentil

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup, from The Barefoot Contessa

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 lbs ripe tomatoes (Ina suggests plum), sliced in half
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons gold olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (1 large/2 small)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with juices
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread mixture in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade or purée with an immersion blender (or in vitamix) until smooth.

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Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Homemade Pesto, Two Ways

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I’ll never forget the first time I went to Italy, in 2002, and discovered “pesto genovese.” I had read that the Cinque Terre was the birthplace of pesto, and thus rationalized ordering gnocchi alla pesto at every meal for weeks. A classic basil pesto, made of just seven ingredients, it was somehow so much more delicious there than anywhere I had ever had it here – and remains more delicious than any I’ve had since (but for a couple trips back).

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I plant basil every spring, use it throughout the summer, and somehow have an abundance turning to flower in August.  As such, last week I decided to make a batch of pesto to freeze (one of my favorite uses for pesto, aside from just using it as a pasta sauce, is to use it as a garnish for minestrone soup all winter – freezing small amounts in an ice cube tray is the perfect way to have homemade pesto on hand year round).  And as long as I was in the pesto spirit, I tried a kale pesto recipe that had been on my to-do list as well. While the classic pesto is always delicious (although nowhere close to the Italian version), the kale version is pretty dang good too, and you can feel that much better about yourself.

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Classic basil pesto, Barefoot Contessa version: pine nuts, walnuts, garlic

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Blend in the parm, basil, salt and pepper, and then add the olive oil until it reaches the consistency you’d like. Ina calls for a fair amount of oil, I used less. I do wish I had blanched the basil leaves, as some recipes recommend – it helps remove any bitter flavor and helps the leaves maintain their bright green color as well.

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Basil Pesto, from Barefoot Contessa

1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup walnuts (you could use all pine nuts for a more traditional pesto, or all walnuts for a cheaper and healthier alternative)
3 tablespoons garlic, or 9 cloves (I used a little less)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Place the pine nuts, walnuts, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds, then add the basil, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly add the oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly puréed. Add the parmesan and purée for another minute.  Use immediately, or store pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of oil on top (any exposure to air will turn your beautiful bright green sauce brown within minutes, it’s just heartbreaking).

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This kale pesto is pretty similar to the basil pesto recipe, only it uses all walnuts, and lemon juice to brighten it up a bit. I used the bagged kale from Trader Joe’s because I was too lazy to drive to another grocery store, but its a lot easier to cut out the stems when you’re working with whole leaves.  Here you definitely need to blanch the kale leaves, and remove the stems, or it will be too bitter.  Even if you aren’t a kale lover, this is a delicious and super healthy pesto that could be used as a sauce (thinned with water), a dip or a spread.

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Kale Pesto, from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

1 small bunch lacinato or Tuscan kale, stemmed and chopped (about 4 cups)
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used a little more)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or a little more)

Blanch the kale leaves for about a minute, then transfer to a strainer and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Once the kale has cooled, squeeze out the excess water and set aside. You should have about a cup and a half of kale.

In a food processor, combine the garlic, parmesan, lemon juice, and walnuts and pulse to chop. Add the kale, water, and 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper and pulse to combine (I added a handful of basil here as well). Turn the processor on and drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you like (I thinned it with a little too much water, which is why it looks like gross green water in the picture – I promise it tastes better than it looks).

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