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Fresh tomato soup

Fresh tomato soup
Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

The best way to enjoy a ripe red (or yellow or orange or purple or green) tomato is to stand next to a vine overflowing with sun-warmed fruit, find one that almost falls into your hand, and savor it right then and there. Close your eyes to get the full tomato-ness of it all.

But at this time of year, if you're like most gardeners, you'd be standing there all day before you even made a dent in the abundant crop. And if you've been tempted at the farmers market, you're facing the annual dilemma: What to do with too many tomatoes?

The answer's obvious: Make something that's all about tomatoes, something that you can cook on a weekend and serve later in the week, say spaghetti sauce, tomato soup or Bloody Mary mix. But don't go rooting around for old farmhouse recipes -- these classics are ripe for updating.

First, mix it up with the tomatoes. Use several different kinds together in each recipe, and in the sauce, roast the plum tomatoes before incorporating.

The most flavorful tomato dishes hit a perfect note of acid balanced with sweet, and a good way to achieve this balance is to use more than one variety. Brandywine, Early Girl or Stupice are good for rich, tangy flavor. Many yellow or Japanese pink or even cherry tomato varieties add a hit of sweetness.

Roasting meaty plum tomatoes intensifies their flavor and adding a puree of roasted tomatoes to a chunky fresh tomato sauce also thickens it.

Fresh tomato soup using several different varieties might be deep orange or purply red in color. The flavor is complex, too, thanks to a hint of juniper-scented gin and aromatic fennel. And happily, this soup also works as a starting point for endless appetizing variations. Add cumin, oregano and lime juice, then finish with cotija cheese and diced avocado to serve as a starter to a meal of fish tacos. Garnish with cooked rice, chopped mint and yogurt and serve with hummus and pita for a Middle Eastern lunch.

And for a Labor Day brunch, offer each of your guests a glassful of liquid summer. Blend up the best tomatoes you can find, then mix in some seasonings and a shot of chilly vodka.

But make sure you set out the bagels and fruit first. With the best Bloody Mary you've ever tasted in your glass, and more tomatoes to look forward to, you won't be in a hurry to do anything else.

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Total time: 55 minutes | Makes 8 to 10 cups
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 shallots, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fennel bulb
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or more to taste)
  • 3 pounds mixed ripe tomatoes, diced with juices reserved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tablespoon gin
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 to 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup cream, optional
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 large basil leaves, sliced crosswise into thin ribbons, for garnish

Step 1In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, carrot, celery and fennel and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute until aromatic.

Step 2Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, along with the lemon juice, sugar, paprika, gin and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato liquid reduces and the mixture has thickened slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly.

Step 3Transfer the vegetables, in batches, to a blender jar and puree until smooth, then return to the pot. Add the broth, one cup at a time, until the soup reaches desired consistency, stirring to thoroughly combine.

Step 4Bring the soup to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the cream if desired and adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and black pepper. Garnish each serving with basil.

Variations

Middle Eastern: Omit the cream and basil. Add one-fourth to one-half cup of cooked rice to each bowl. To serve, top with chopped mint and a dollop of plain yogurt.

Moroccan: Omit the cream and basil. Add 1 tablespoon each of fresh grated ginger and ground cinnamon when cooking the vegetables. To serve, top with chopped cilantro and diced Moroccan olives.

Latin American: Add 2 teaspoons ground cumin and 1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano when cooking the vegetables. Substitute lime juice for the lemon juice. To serve, top the finished soup with 1 tablespoon of crumbled cotija or grated queso blanco, diced avocado and chopped cilantro.

Each of 10 servings:
95 calories; 2 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 6 mg. cholesterol; 262 mg. sodium.
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