It was almost unbelievable to me, when I walked out toward our shriveled-up raised bed garden to begin breaking down the zucchini trellis and found—get this—new tomatoes!!!
It’s true that Southern summers tend to run a bit longer than some other regions, but I didn’t expect a tomato comeback, especially in the last days of September and given that our nighttime temperatures are sinking into the 40s. Mother Nature is something else though, isn’t she?
In addition to the lemon boy heirlooms (ripe and otherwise), we also had a bumper crop of a handful of Romas and though they didn’t look as pretty as the ones we enjoyed earlier in the summer, they were perfectly ripe and had a great flavor. I knew they’d be an excellent ingredient for homemade tomato bisque, which happens to be my husband’s favorite.
To be clear, you don’t literally need all day to make this bisque; I just needed something to do over the weekend, when our area was awash with the remnants of Hurricane Ian. Rather than making soup to freeze for a rainy day, I spent an entire rainy day making the soup we’d enjoy later. If you have half an hour, and don’t need to cook down fresh tomatoes, you could whip up this soup and use the simmering time to make a grilled cheese sandwich (our favorite side for this soup).
My plan for the bisque came together in seconds: I’d blanch and shock the tomatoes for easy peeling, then chop them up and add them to my soup pot along with sauteed onions and garlic, plus a large can of Italian tomatoes (San Marzano, of course) and give the mixture a nice, long simmer to marry the flavors.
For a flavor boost, I swished out the tomato can with a few tablespoons of dry vermouth (the same spirit I put in my favorite martini) and dropped into the pot a dried bay leaf, which is always a good bet for a dish that is going in for a long simmer. Two hours later, I removed the bay leaf and brought out the immersion blender to puree the soup into the creamy texture that my hubby loves.
The resulting soup was really good, and I could taste the freshness that my surprise Romas contributed to the pot. It needed a little more depth, though, and definitely a little more color. Maybe you have noticed, as I have, that a homemade tomato soup or sauce tends to come out more orange than red, and it turns out there is a good (and scientific) reason for that, as I learned a few days ago in this article in my news feed. A little bit of tomato paste deepened the color and intensified the tomato flavor, a slight spoonful of sugar balanced the acidity, and a generous splash of cream made it bisque-y.
This was a great use of my encore tomatoes, though this easy homemade soup would be delicious with only canned tomatoes, which are usually packed at their peak of freshness. You might replace my fresh tomatoes with an extra, 15-ounce can, or simply reduce the other ingredients a bit for a smaller batch.
As for us, we are glad for a little extra, as a warm homemade soup will be most welcome at the end of today’s Yom Kippur service (that’s the Jewish holiday that has a 24-hour complete food-and-water fast), and we will undoubtedly devour our leftovers!
All-day Tomato Bisque
Of course, you don't really need to spend all day making this soup, but the long simmer time makes a world of difference in flavor, especially when using fresh garden tomatoes.
- 8 fresh, small plum tomatoes (or substitute a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, depending on taste
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes (San Marzano or another type that is packed in puree)
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine, such as pinot grigio)
- 1 whole dried bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. sugar (optional)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (use less or substitute half and half for reduced fat)
- Put on a pot of water to boil for blanching the fresh tomatoes. Wash and score the bottom (blossom end) with an X for easy peeling. Carefully immerse the tomatoes into the boiling water for a minute or two, just long enough for the skins to split. Transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water, then peel and chop them.
- While water is boiling, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook until softened and slightly transparent. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
- Add the fresh, chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir to heat through. Add the large can of tomatoes (juice and all, but remove basil sprigs) and break them up with your cooking utensil. If you wish, you can squeeze the whole tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot, and I would recommend this if you’re in a hurry. For long, slow simmering, the heat will break them up just fine.
- Add vermouth (or wine) to the tomato can and swirl it to rinse out the leavings. Add this to the soup and bring the pot to a slight boil, then cover and reduce heat. Add the bay leaf and simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours. Check the soup occasionally and stir to keep it from burning on the bottom.
- When tomatoes break easily under pressure from your utensil, use an immersion blender to puree it as smooth as you like. Be sure to remove the bay leaf first! If you don’t have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool and puree it in batches in a regular blender. Keep the vent cap open for safety.
- Stir in tomato paste and sugar (if using), and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream just before serving.