Soup Sunday: Tomato Basil Soup with Parsley Polenta

Posts two days in a row? What is this madness?

Mostly a desire to get back into the swing of blogging, to actually use this space I pay cash money for. One does hate to waste money.

So, part of the swing is to try to do semi-regular special posts, and we’ll start here. I am no cooking blog, but I think everyone knows I like to cook and everyone – with the exception of one ex-roommate who still believes that a single incident of burned food in 2001 means I am hopelessly inept in the kitchen forever – knows I’m not terrible at it. And I think I have made it pretty nerdily clear that I love soup, so I thought perhaps I would do a twice-monthly Soup Sunday blog for as long as the cool weather lasts. Sound good?

Too bad if not. I’m paying the rent here. šŸ˜‰

Tonight’s idea, spurred by a couple of cans of Red Gold Italian seasoned tomatoes in my pantry, was to finally give tomato-basil soup a try. This was a reasonably sized deal for me, because I have always shied away from tomato soup – why would anyone want to eat a bowl of marinara sauce, I always thought. It didn’t compute.

But the thing is, you always hear about people eating tomato soup when they’re sick. Or just because they like it, and they eat it with a grilled cheese sandwich. Campbell’s does a booming business in cans of their tomato soup. And certainly La Madeleine’s best selling soup is not my much beloved country potato, but rather the creamy tomato basil that they sell by the truckload. You can even buy it in quart size jars to take home.

So I figured…maybe I was selling good old tomato soup short, and decided to make a simple five ingredient tomato-basil soup.

IMG_0733.JPGI went about making my soup a little differently than Lindsay Hunt, though I am sure her version is very good. For starters, her soup does not call for a broth base at all, and I wanted one, so I pulled my trusty Better Than Bouillon out of the refrigerator. I used chicken, but their vegetable base is good too.

I whizzed the onion and garlic through my very much adored food processor – purchased last winter after a horrifying bout slicing enough onions to go in my potato kugel. I cried for an hour after I was done cutting and decided never, ever again, and promptly bought…I think it’s a Hamilton Beech. At any rate, it’s got a motor like an airplane engine and works a treat. See?

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Beautiful. I dumped the shredded onion and garlic into another dearly beloved recent kitchen purchase, a 5 quart Dutch oven. Mine’s Cuisinart. I use the crimeny-crud out of this thing, let me tell you. Did I want a Le Creuset? Of course I did. Do I have a Le Creuset budget?

HA. Not even by Homegoods’ pricing standards, thanks. But this Cuisinart one has so far been serving me well, and I put it through the wringer a lot.

Anyway, I had heated a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat – another departure from Lindsay’s recipe, she wanted me to use canola oil, but ever since my mother decided to repeatedly informĀ me that canola oil is just industrial waste byproduct, I’ve been squeamish about using it, and I am not even sure she’sĀ right but it really has put me off the stuff anyway – and tossed the onion and garlic in, and I cooked them, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes while they got translucent. Like so:

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I watched a fun old friend of a movie while I was at it. I know I am one of like, five people who lovedĀ Bedazzled. Sue me. I thought it was funny, and Liz Hurley is just really attractive.

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(you too can regrow your own green onions – it’s super easy, here, have a go)

When the onions were ready, I poured in the two cans of tomatoes, then two cans of water, and then I added three hearty teaspoons of the Better Than Bouillon and brought it all to a boil. Then it got turned down to a simmer and for kicks and giggles – even though the tomatoes already had basil in them – I added some of those little Dorot basil cubes. I love those. My basil plants have been a little scraggly this year since I am new to gardening and completely clueless, so these Dorot cubes are my next favorite thing and so very handy.

Anyway, basil and garlic heavy (recipe called for three cloves…I used five because YOLO or something), away the soup simmered.

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In another pot, I whipped up a batch of polenta. Polenta is my favorite comfort food, so I have a pretty basic recipe in my back pocket that I adapt as needed.

3 cups water
1 cup cornmeal

Bring water to boil. Whisk water as if you were going to make risotto or poach eggs, and slowly,Ā carefullyĀ drizzle in the cornmeal. In fact maybe turn down the heat before you start drizzling in the cornmeal, because things are going to get popping hot very quickly, and cornmeal burns are like volcanoes. At any rate, whisk whisk whisk and drizzle drizzle drizzle until you have a porridge that you will then leave to cook on medium-low for fifteen minutes or so, checking in every so often. Once it’s peeling away from the sides of the pot, stir in some fresh chopped parsley (I augmented mine with a bit of dried, my parsley plant is also not so very sturdy after a summer of my inept ministrations), salt and pepper, and a couple of generous spoonfuls of butter. If you were wanting to serve this polenta alone, you would have let it cook a little longer and added a really generous amount of heavy cream to it, but we want it to stand up to the soup, so I left the cream out.

The soup, having simmered for twenty minutes, is done. Take an immersion blender to it, please. Or do what you need to do to get it all smoothed out. Ladle it into bowls and stir some heavy cream into each bowl – you can stir it into the whole pot if you want, but since I was planning on freezing the leftovers, I didn’t – then pile a nice little mountain of your polenta into the middle.

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Add salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to taste. Eat like crazy.

I’m still not sure this is entirely the soup for me – it did taste a bit like pasta sauce and that was weird. I have a few more recipes to try, though, so maybe I will find one I like better. But this one was still good.

Tomato-Basil Soup

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
5 cloves of garlic (or, you know, however much you like)
2 14.5 oz cans of Italian seasoned tomatoes (with basil, oregano, and…oops, garlic…well, it’s flu and cold season, don’t be afraid to go nuts with the garlic, is my view)
3 tsp Better Than Bouillon Chicken Soup Base (or vegetable is fine too)
Salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a good-size soup pot with a solid bottom. Add your chopped up onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until translucent, about ten minutes.

When the onion and garlic are ready, pour in your cans of tomatoes, then two full cans of water. Stir in the Better Than Bouillon and add any extra basil you want to throw in at this stage. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and let it go for twenty minutes.

While the soup simmers, cook up the polenta according to the guidelines listed earlier.

When soup and polenta are both done cooking, puree the soup smooth. Ladle it into nice deep bowls, stir in some heavy cream, and add a good-size portion of polenta in the middle. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parmesan to taste. Enjoy!

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