The tomatoes are lovely right now. Recently at Whole Foods there were about seven different varieties, which always makes me happy. There were Roma, cluster tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, a big pile of various heirloom tomatoes, and more. In a fit of indecision I bought a little bit of four different kinds and make them into a satiny cream of tomato soup. It was lovely. And my son, a fan of the Campbell’s version, swore that mine was the “best ever!” I agree. It is great because it tastes exactly like tomatoes, fresh and new, warm and comforting.
Buy about 2½ pounds of assorted ripe tomatoes. They all have different flavors and textures. You are sure to not end up with dud tomatoes if you diversify. Plus, I think it is important to perk up your ears when you see a sign that says “heirloom” anything. It has become a fashionable food word and I always find that a bit off-putting, but…commercial tomatoes have been bred, much like apples, for characteristics like redness, shelf stability, and appearance. They have been hybridized to produce the desired characteristic, and flavor has not necessarily been at the top of the list. As we have seen with apples, shelf stability (a virtue, to be sure) is not the prime virtue many of us are looking for in fruits and veggies.
Heirloom tomatoes can fall into several categories, being 50 years in circulation, seeds having been passed down through generations of a family, or mystery crosses of heirloom varieties. Now, as we know, we cannot necessarily expect big chain grocery stores to be in on the fun. They need certain characteristics in order to sell in the way that they sell. But, if you support stores that do, or buy from farmers who grow these more fragile, but more delicious varieties…then maybe they will continue to be offered…and perhaps even more will.
If you are on a budget and the price of the heirlooms gives you pause, do what I did and mix and match. You are still helping to support the continued production of these completely interesting and beautiful fruits.
You will look at your pile of tomatoes and think that it will make a gallon of soup. It will not. It makes about four (1 cup) servings.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 ½ pounds tomatoes, (many kinds) cored and roughly chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste (heaping)
1 cup water
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté for three minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the tomatoes, thyme sprig, salt and pepper and continue to cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are broken down completely. Add the tomato paste and stir it into the tomatoes. Then, add the water. Continue to simmer the tomato mixture for an additional 5 minutes.
2. Remove the pot from the heat. Blend the tomatoes using a stick immersion blender, or by putting the tomatoes into a regular blender in several batches. Do not fill the blender pitcher more than half way on any batch.
3. Strain the tomato mixture through a sieve to isolate the seeds and skins of the tomatoes. Use the back of a spoon to mash all of the juices out of the pulp remaining in the sieve. Discard the pulp. Return the strained tomato soup to the stock pot and heat it gently, adding up to ¼ cup of whipping cream. Stir in the cream thoroughly. Season with additional salt and pepper and garnish with torn fresh basil leaves.