Thursday, July 26, 2012

tomato basil soup

The first bite into the vine-ripened, freshly picked tomato. The sweet freshness, the sticky juice running down your chin. That's the best thing.

Tomatoes are grown plenty here in Finland, often served in salads and sandwiches (Caprese sandwich is one of the most common ones you can find here). The tomatoes that you can buy here, they are always fresh. It is rare that they are really sweet, though, except cherry tomatoes. Given the cooler temperatures and short summer, it is understandable. As much as tomato soup is a staple in the American diet, it is rarely eaten as a main dish here. I think it is because we don't really do the grilled cheese. Tomato soup does often make a wonderful appetizer, however.

A bowl of tomato soup is usually accompanied by a slice of hearty Finnish rye bread. I have yet to decide whether I like rye bread or peasant bread better with tomato soup. Which is why I like to make big enough pot of soup, to eat it with both rye and peasant bread. A slice slathered with butter and a fried egg on top, is my absolute favourite for a heartier meal.

Tomato soup makes good use of ripened tomatoes. And if tomatoes are a touch too ripe? Perfect for soup. In my opinion, plenty of basil should always at least be served with the soup, if not in it. As tomato soup is about making the best of the summer, I find that the tomatoes should be simmered with fresh herbs. Because really, tomato soup made from fresh tomatoes and herbs is like summer, in a bowl.

Although we don't have the tomato soup and grilled cheese culture here in Finland, I think I have found the comfort with this rustic version of tomato soup. While comfort and rustic may not be exactly the key words for summer, here in Finland it has been rainy and cooler than usual, meaning that this rustic yet fresh soup has been just perfect, for lunch and for dinner.

Tomato Basil Soup
serves 6

3 tbsp butter
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 tbsp red lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 kg ripe tomatoes (about 10)

2 (400g) cans quality diced tomatoes
1 bouillon cube
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil + more for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring plenty of water to boil. Score a cross on the bottom of eat tomato. When the water boil, dunk the tomatoes into the water until the skin near the cross starts to curl. Take the tomatoes out of the water and set aside. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel the tomatoes.

Chop the peeled onions. In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until the onions start to soften; add garlic and lentils. Chop the peeled tomatoes, discarding the hard parts; add to the pot. Add the diced tomatoes with juices to the pan, along with the bouillon cube and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the lentils have softened, 20 to 25 minutes.

Purée the soup using an immersion blender until desired consistency. (I like mine rather chunky so I pulsed only a few times. However, the canned tomatoes I used were more like purée than dice. So really, until desired consistency.) Season to taste and add the chopped fresh basil. Serve with more fresh basil if desired.

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