Soup is one of my favorite go-to dishes for busy weeknights. It can be made ahead and in large batches, which means you can easily prepare single-serving size portions to use later. It’s flexible, performing equally well as an appetizer, paired with a salad or a sandwich, or standing alone as the main course. Its roster of ingredients can be varied at a moment’s notice, allowing you to use up that aging zucchini or lonely potato hiding in the back of the vegetable drawer.
Best of all, soup is an undeniable marker of the seasons. Who doesn’t associate gazpacho with late summer’s abundance of fresh tomatoes or creamy butternut squash soup with the Thanksgiving table?
Like many people, my earliest memories of soup came out of a Campbell’s can. On cold, wintry days, my mom would warm me up with a hot bowl of its bean with bacon variety. If I felt a little under the weather, Campbell’s tomato soup topped with crumbled saltine crackers was my preferred choice. Soup meant nourishment, it meant comfort, and, most importantly for a busy mom, it meant convenience.
Unfortunately, when I became a mom myself, the convenience of canned soup was overshadowed by concerns about its ingredients. Like all highly processed foods, canned soup has too much salt, numerous artificial flavoring agents and preservatives and, in some cases, added sugar. Making my own meant I could avoid those ingredients.
But the main reason to forgo canned in favor of homemade? Taste! Homemade soup just tastes better than canned.
Which brings me to the subject of my inaugural post – weeknight tomato soup. My recipe is based on one I heard described by Seattle chef Tom Douglas on the radio program The Splendid Table. Its convenience is based on the use of canned tomatoes. (Click here to find out why I’m ok with canned tomatoes but not canned tomato soup.)
I’ve modified Tom’s version to make it even more convenient for busy moms. For example, Tom uses five cups of canned tomatoes. In order to avoid having unused tomatoes, my version uses the entirety of four 14 oz. cans. To lighten it a bit, I’ve substituted half and half for the cream, and I’ve changed the instructions so that the half and half is added after the soup is cooked. This allows you to make and freeze the soup in advance. I’ve eliminated the homemade croutons – store bought are fine. Lastly, I’ve included ideas for tweaking it to reflect your own personal tastes in the “Make It Your Own” section.
Try it, and let me know what you think. Better yet, let me know what your kids think!
Weeknight Tomato Soup
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
- 1 teaspoon of salt (divided)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 14.5-ounce cans of no-salt added canned tomatoes
- 1 cup of water
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried basil flakes
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or more to taste)
- ½ cup of half and half
- Croutons, crackers, sour cream, or crème fraiche, for garnishing if desired
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium soup pot. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and starting to become golden (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes, basil, and sugar and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove the soup pot from the heat and then puree the soup using an immersion blender. (You can also use an countertop blender to puree the soup. Just be sure to let it cool a bit before transferring it to the blender and puree it in batches if necessary. Return the pureed soup to the pot.)
- Place the half and half in a small bowl, ladle about a half cup of the pureed soup into the half and half, and stir gently to combine. Return the half and half-soup mixture to the pot, and bring the soup back to a simmer. Taste and add more salt, pepper and/or sugar if necessary.
- Serve the soup hot, garnished with croutons, crumbled crackers, sour cream, or crème fraiche as desired.
Make Ahead: You can make this recipe ahead through step 2 and either refrigerate or freeze the tomato soup mixture. When ready to use, thaw (if frozen) and then reheat it in a pot. Continue with steps 3 and 4.
Make It Your Own: Once you’ve mastered the basic technique for this soup, try some variations. For example, you could substitute a different herb or spice for the basil, such as oregano (which the original recipe called for), marjoram, or even fennel seeds (if using fennel seeds, add them to the pot at the same time as the garlic). You could also add other vegetables that pair well with tomatoes, such as a couple of peeled and grated carrots or roasted red peppers (if adding peppers, feel free to use the jarred kind — I get mine from Trader Joe’s — and lightly rinse and remove any lingering seeds). If you decide to add some additional vegetables, add them at the same time as the tomatoes and be sure to include some additional water to bring the soup back to the proper consistency.