APPLIED CREATIVITY: MAKING TOMATO SOUP OUT OF ODDS AND ENDS

In a recent post, I wrote about my friends John and Beth Clark and how by scouting and scrounging for used books, they have enhanced a very small Maine library and have provided children’s books to their daughter’s classroom in the Bronx, where she teaches. I noted that the lesson of creatively reusing resources could be applied to many other aspects of life, in particular, cooking.

Last night, I made a tomato soup that falls right into this creative reuse tradition. From meals from the past few days, I had saved the water from steaming broccoli and corn, which I knew would make a good base for a soup. I had leftover white beans and leftover pasta. Naturally, I also had “new” ingredients to add: canned tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, and rosemary.

Before I even started the soup, a choice had to be made, and I left it up to my husband, Clif. Should I blend the tomatoes in the food processor, thereby leaving the soup a little chunky with the vegetables, or should I simmer everything—except the white beans and pasta—and use an immersion blender to get an extremely smooth soup? Clif opted for the smooth soup with the immersion blender.

What a great choice! After the vegetables, the rosemary, the tomatoes, and the water from the broccoli and corn had simmered for an hour, I put the stockpot in the sink, and blended the mixture until it was smooth. Then I added the pasta and the white beans to the soup, returned it to the stove, and brought it all back to a gentle boil.

“What do you think?” I asked my husband, Clif, as we ate our soup.

“Pretty darned good,” came his Yankee reply, which is extremely high praise. Normally, I get a “not too bad” from Clif.

He even elaborated. “It’s smooth and creamy yet tangy, and it doesn’t have that acidic back-kick that tomato soup often has.”

Clif was right. My guess is that blending the carrots and celery into the soup helped neutralize some of the acidity of the tomatoes. And who knows? Maybe the broccoli and corn water helped, too.

Whatever the case, this tomato soup makes a great base for a variety of ingredients. I had white beans and pasta. Rice and mushrooms would have been good, too.  Or barley. And, to really spruce up this soup and make it a company meal, cooked shrimp or sausage could be added to the soup. If you’re feeling really extravagant, then both.

But the white beans and pasta were perfect for a simple week-night supper. I made corn bread to go with the soup, thus compounding my husband’s happiness.

The following is the recipe for the basic tomato soup, with the understanding that a variety of leftovers or ingredients could be added to the soup. I have given a few suggestions, but obviously they are just suggestions. Use your creativity and your leftovers.

Tomato Soup Base

1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, including the juice
3 cups of water, ideally from steamed or boiled vegetables
2 carrots, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of dried onion (See note)
Two sprigs of rosemary
2 tablespoons of oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a stock pan, heat the oil and add the carrots and celery, cooking and stirring occasionally until the vegetables are fairly soft. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for a minute or so with the carrots and celery. Add the tomatoes, the water, the dried onion, the sprigs of rosemary, and let it all simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Blend it smooth, using whatever device you might have, and then add the pasta, beans, rice, etc. Whatever appeals to you. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note about the onion: Unfortunately, my digestive system has an extremely hard time with onions. Over the years, I’ve discovered dried onions are an acceptable, if not ideal, substitute. The advantage is, they don’t make me sick. For readers who don’t have this culinary handicap, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, it would be easy enough to substitute a medium onion for the dried onions. Chop that onion, add it to the celery and carrots, and let them cook on a very low heat so that the carrots are soft but the onion doesn’t burn.

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