Lost Italian: This Garden-Fresh Tomato Soup is better than the Campbell's stuff
It is mid-September, which means the collision of two of my favorite food seasons: tomatoes and soup.
You may not believe this, but until I was in my mid- to late 20s, the only tomato soup I would eat was Campbell’s canned variety. Made with water, never milk, and loaded with saltine crackers, this pantry staple was a mainstay of my finicky childhood days and several years beyond.
That is, until my first job as a stewardess with Clipper Cruise Line (now defunct), where I was required to taste each of the dishes I would be serving to our guests. What an experience for a young girl from North Dakota who would have gladly stuck to her preferred diet of meat and potatoes, peppered with the occasional tomato soup from a can!
It was as a Clipper stewardess that I first experienced a real tomato soup, one that was made with fresh tomatoes. The original recipe, which I’ve lightly adapted over the years, was created by Chef Robert Colosimo, the director of food service for Clipper Cruise Line, and featured in the company’s cookbook “Cooking Adventures from the Clipper Galley.” If you have an abundance of ripe, or even overripe, tomatoes in your garden, this is the perfect opportunity to ensure your harvest doesn’t go to waste.
Like my beloved Campbell’s version, there is no milk or cream used in this tomato soup, but there are a few clever chef hacks employed to maximize the flavor of those tomatoes. The recipe begins by sauteing onions and garlic in butter, not oil, to ensure a base of rich flavor.
Other soup staples are then added, like crushed red pepper, celery and white wine, followed by a robust amount of roughly chopped, fresh tomatoes.
And here’s where things get interesting. The rich flavor of this tomato soup comes not just from the use of garden-fresh tomatoes, but the liquids that are added. V8 vegetable juice and chicken stock brighten up the entire profile of this tomato soup and are further enhanced by common flavor builders like bay leaves, fresh basil, salt and pepper.
There are just enough ingredients in this soup to ensure that it is rich, aromatic and full of flavor, but not enough to overpower the essential ingredient: tomatoes.
The soup simmers over medium heat for about 45 minutes until the tomatoes, having worked free of their skins, are soft and broken. The chunky mixture must then be pureed, either with a hand-held or liquid blender, and passed through a strainer to ensure a smooth, lush consistency.
For a finishing touch, Chef Colosimo returns the pureed soup to the stove and adds a splash of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and hot sauce (like Tabasco). The result is a delicious, yet mild, soup with just enough complexity to be craveworthy.
You can enjoy the soup in its own glorious splendor or garnish it with fresh croutons, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese or even some crumbly, cooked Italian sausage.
This Garden-Fresh Tomato Soup is aromatic, savory, easy to make and wonderfully delicious. I hope it is as big a hit on your table as it is on ours.
Garden-Fresh Tomato Soup
Serves: 6 to 8
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 stalk celery, sliced into ¼-inch half-moons
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
2 ½ to 3 pounds fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cups V8 vegetable juice
One 14.5-ounce can chicken stock or broth
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 leaves fresh basil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
8 to 10 drops hot sauce (like Tabasco)
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat; once melted, add the onion and garlic and saute over medium low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the crushed red pepper and celery and continue to saute for 5 more minutes, stirring often.
Add the white wine and increase heat to medium-high; let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Add the V8 juice, chicken stock, water, bay leaf, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have shed their skins and appear soft and broken, about 45 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and discard the bay leaf.
Use a hand-held or liquid blender to puree the mixture until fully blended. Pass the liquid through a strainer into the pot, draining as much juice as possible and discarding the pulp.
Return the pot to the burner over medium heat. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and hot sauce and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh croutons or crackers.
To store: Transfer soup to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
- If fresh tomatoes aren’t in season, substitute three 28-ounce cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped.
- For a heartier version, cook 1 pound of ground Italian sausage until browned and crumbly; add to the finished soup and cook over medium heat until hot, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Additional garnishes can include grated Parmesan cheese, finely chopped basil or parsley, or baked cheese crostini.
Adapted from Chef Robert Colosimo’s recipe for Fresh Tomato Soup in “Cooking Adventures from the Clipper Gallery.”
Recipe Time Capsule:
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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.