Monday, September 25, 2017

Creamy Tomato Bisque

If I had to list my top three most hated foods, canned tomato soup would definitely be named, keeping company with Limburger cheese and sardines. I have such disdain for canned tomato soup - everything about it evokes feelings of pure disgust and loathing - the nauseating smell, the tinny taste, and the sight of grilled cheese being dipped into it. It's just gross. I know many people will disagree with me, my husband included. It is one of his favorite soups and he cannot understand why I can't even be in the same room as him while he eats it. I probably threw it up once a million years ago and that might be the origin of my extreme dislike although I have no memory of a specific incident.

So, why would such a tomato soup hater suddenly feature a recipe for tomato bisque on her blog?

Once while out on a dinner date with Paul, we ordered an entree that came with both salad and the soup of the day. Soup sounded good, so I had no qualms with that nor did I happen to inquire what the "soup of the day" happened to me. To my horror, our waiter brought back two steaming bowls of creamy tomato soup. I already had made up my mind that I was going to hate it, so Paul agreed to eat my soup if I would eat his salad. When he took a bite and declared it "life changing", my curiosity was peaked, so I ventured a taste of my own. To my immense surprise, not only was the soup palatable, it was downright delicious. I could not stop eating spoonful after spoonful of the warm, creamy, savory puree. It was heaven! I finished my entire bowl that day and made plans to make my own version at home.

After a few tries, I believe this recipe comes the closest to replicating that transcendental tomato soup experience I had in the restaurant. The genius of this recipe comes from starting the soup with a just a touch of bacon to add a bit of savory element to the soup without being overpowering. A liberal amount of vegetables and a generous portion of broth is added to this base of combined fat, allowing the  tomatoes to be featured while not overwhelming the final product with their acidity. The vegetable mixture simmers gently with a fresh herb bouquet before being pureed to silky-smooth perfection and combined with just enough cream to give a smooth richness. The soup may be garnished with chopped parsley, freshly grated Parmesan, crumbled gorgonzola (my favorite), or the reserved cooked and crumbled bacon from the first step of the soup making process - if it wasn't consumed already as a pre-dinner snack!

I am still not a fan of canned tomato soup and never will be, but fresh tomato soup made with love is in a completely different category. This is a wonderful, comforting soup that you are sure to love. Be sure to serve with plenty of cheese toasts, for dipping. Although I'm still not on board with the dipping craze, my husband thinks it's a crime to serve soup without some kind of bread for this exact purpose. So, we always serve ours with bread or grilled cheese. Perfect for these cozy fall nights coming up!

Creamy Tomato Bisque

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced bacon (about 1/2 ounce)
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes (with liquid), roughly chopped
3 parsley sprigs
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream (half/half may be used with great results!)
1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until crisp and most of the fat has rendered, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Pour in the broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Tie the parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine and add to the pot. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

When the soup base is cool, remove and discard the herb bundle. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Using a sieve over a large bowl, strain the tomato puree. Return the puree to the pot and reheat over medium heat.

Whisk the heavy cream and salt into the soup and season with pepper to taste. Divide among warm soup bowls, garnish with the crispy bacon, and serve immediately.

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