Intro: Spicy Tomato Cheddar Soup
Do you long for the platonic ideal of tomato soup? Perfectly smooth, but still full bodied, creamy without tasting like somebody literally dumped cream it, and most importantly, having that je ne sais quoi of tomato flavor without any of the wateryness?
This tomato soup is the solution to all your problems. Unless your problems happen to include lactose intolerance or severe heartburn, in which case I would not recommend ingesting this soup. I've been perfecting the recipe for the last four years- it's possible my life is just downhill from here. I was initially inspired by the tomato cheddar soup at Beecher's Cheese in Seattle, which is delicious primarily because of the cheese used.
The secrets to this tomato soup are San Marzano tomatoes and extremely aggressive blending (followed by straining if your blender lacks sufficient power)
Step 1: What You Need
This recipe serves 6-8, depending on whether it's an appetizer or an entree. It takes two hours total to make, including prep, and about 45 minutes of that is letting it simmer while stirring every ten minutes. If your blender isn't very powerful but you are still committed to perfectly smooth soup, it'll take at least another hour to strain (ASK ME HOW I KNOW), depending on your strainer.
What you need:
- 2 28-ounce cans of San Marzano (or San Marzano style) tomatoes
- 1 large carrot (or an equivalent amount of baby carrots)
- 1 onion
- 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- 8-10 cloves of garlic
- 4-8 ounces of sharp cheddar (depending on your cheesy preferences)
- 2 Tablespoons of butter
- olive oil
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- dried red chili flakes (to taste)
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Blender (the more powerful, the better)
- Strainer (optional)
Step 2: Soup Base
Slice the onions finely. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions, stir. Once they're covered in oil, add spices- salt, pepper, chili flakes and bay leaves. Pick bay leaves with some structural integrity and make sure you remember how many you added, because you need to take them out later. I like my soup really spicy, so I put a fair bit of chili flakes (about a teaspoon), but adjust based on spicy tolerance and the spiciness of your chili flakes. Cook on medium heat until the onions start browning.
While you're browning the onions, peel and mince your garlic. If you don't have an awesome garlic press and the America's Test Kitchen video doesn't convince you that you need one, start this before you start cooking the onions. On the other hand, if you want to yuppie it up or your life motto is "MORE GARLIC, I highly recommend the Kuhn Rikon Epicurean garlic press.
When the onions have begun browning, add the garlic. When you get that delicious garlic aroma, grate the carrot directly into the pot, and cook until the carrots are soft.
Step 3: Adding the Tomatoes
If your tomatoes are whole, blend them, and then add them to the pot. Add two cups of stock, stir, and bring to a low boil. Simmer for an hour with the lid cracked, stirring every 10 or so minutes. If the soup gets too thick, add more water/stock.
You should also take this time to build up your anticipation.
Step 4: Blending!
Fish out your bay leaves. Make sure you get all of them as bits of fibrous dried leaves will detract from your otherwise perfect soup. Blend your soup. On my Vitamix, I blended on low power until all the solids were gone, and then about 30 seconds on maximum power. Ideally, it will look very smooth.
If you're not happy with the texture of your soup because your blender isn't very powerful and you still want incredibly smooth soup, you should strain your soup into another pot. Use a wooden spoon to push as much through the strainer as you can - at the end you should be left with fairly dry lump of mostly seeds and some fiber. This step takes a while because you're essentially manually blending the soft solids (mostly the carrots) through the mesh by hand, but it yields very delicious results. When I was in college and my time was cheap, I used to do this frequently enough that I seriously considered buying a specialty bouillon strainer and conical pestle like they use on Iron Chef to expedite the process. Happily, my boyfriend just bought me a Vitamix for my birthday, ensuring my permanent soup-related happiness and also unsustainably escalating gift giving for life.
I've made this soup lots of times with only my handheld immersion blender, and not strained it, and received nothing but rave reviews from all my dinner guests.
Step 5: Finishing!
Put the soup back in the pot, and add the butter, stirring as it melts. Keep warm enough to melt cheese and ladle into bowls. Grate cheese directly into bowls, and serve with a slice of toasted bread.
Enjoy the instant improvement in your quality of life.