Spicy Tomato Bisque With Croutons
One of the funny, ironic things about cooking and gardening is that some of the best stuff you can grow in the summer and early autumn makes for wonderful–but out of season–soups and stews that are best made in January and February. To this end, we have taken to growing more tomatoes than we could possibly use in the summertime, and freezing them for use all winter. I grow several varieties, some heirloom, some production-grade, and some eating and slicing tomatoes. Last year we grew Amish Paste and Brandywine red heirlooms, several Roma plants, One Better Boy (famous as the legendary “Jersey” tomatoes, and a couple of grape tomato varieties.
Our plan for this is to pick tomatoes every day, and when we have enough to fill a 9×13 roasting pan, we make a batch for the freezer. We do it on an outdoor grill whenever possible. To do this, preheat the grill to 350 degrees; wash and stem the tomatoes; place them in the pan, stem side down, cut a small “X” in the end pointing up, place a couple of sprigs of fresh basil on the tomatoes, and spray them lightly with olive oil spray. Roast the tomatoes uncovered on a covered grill for 45 minutes, then cover them with foil and allow them to cool to the touch. When cool, pour off any standing water from the pan, being careful not to pour off any tomato juice. Remove the skins from the pan and toss them in the compost pile, and bag the tomatoes in 1-qt. freezer-type ziplock bags, about 1 pound per bag (you ought to get three to four bags from each pan of roasted tomatoes), and place them in the freezer.
The recipe for this post is for an absolutely amazing spicy tomato bisque that will stick to your imagination for weeks after you’ve made it and eaten it. You’ll need two big pots, but the result is well worth the cleaning time. Here goes:
SPICY TOMATO BISQUE
2 pounds fresh or home-frozen tomatoes
1 medium sweet onion
1 Tbsp. good imported paprika (I use Hungarian, but Spanish Paprika is also wonderful. Just use a really good one).
2 Tbsp. lightly-salted butter
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fine-ground white pepper
2 tsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 cup light cream
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup shredded pepper-jack cheese
freshly toasted croutons
fresh chives chopped fine for garnish
1. SLOWLY (!) caramelize the onion and Paprika in the salted butter until they are soft and deeply golden brown.
2. While the onions are cooking, strain the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the seeds.
3. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, brown sugar, allspice, salt, pepper, and basil to the onions, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the flavors marry, about 25 to 30 minutes, and then turn the heat off and remove the bay leaf.
4. In a second pot, melt the unsalted butter, then add the flour to make a roux, stirring constantly until the mixture just barely begins to brown. Add the cream and milk, mix well, and bring to a simmer. Add the tomato soup to the bubbling roux and stir well until the soup begins to thicken.
5. Ladle the soup in heavy stoneware mugs or bowls, top with a generous helping of pepper jack cheese, cover the cheese with five or six croutons, top the whole thing with a pinch of fresh chives, and serve immediately with a nice hot loaf of artisan bread.
This is a memorable soup that you will want to make over and over again, and is best using your own tomatoes. If you are going to use store-bought tomatoes, don’t use just one variety. Mix up some Italian plum and big slicing tomatoes for the soup. If you are going to use store-bought tomatoes, roast them first a day ahead or early in the day, and make sure to remove the skins. This is a lot of work, and is why I use my own roasted tomatoes.
This recipe will also be memorable with canned tomatoes IF you use San Marzano tomatoes. I’ve spoken of them before. They should be the only canned tomatoes you buy.
Try this recipe if you’re looking to make soup on a cold winter Sunday.