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Fool-proof tomatoe bisque recipe
Some say tomato, I say delicious!
When I was in kindergarten, I remember coming home for lunch and having a peanut butter sandwich and a bowl of Campbell's soup. Usually it was 'cream of potato' or 'bean with bacon' but sometimes, Mom would shake it up a bit by making 'cream of mushroom'. Campbell's Cream of Mushroom was my favorite. Lovely lumps of salty creamy goodness floating in a milky broth. Little did I know at the time that those lumps were not supposed to be there. You see, my Mom really did not like cooking and spending time whisking-lumps-out-of-soup-that-shouldn't-be-there-in-the-first-place was just not her thing. She loved to bake, still does. She makes a mean apricot kolache and you can't beat her apple pies. But cooking was not her passion...at all.
With eight kids, three meals a day and no dishwasher it must have seemed that the only thing she accomplished during the day was cooking. Well, that and the 40 loads of laundry every week. My dad was old school; cooking, cleaning and such was women's work. His job was to bring home the bacon and hope Mom didn't burn it when distracted by some minor crisis (like say, my baby sister sticking a safety pin up her nose or the bottle lamb I kept in the backyard getting loose). Eventually we did get a dishwasher, but by that time it was too late. Cooking was drudgery for my Mother. She managed this task by creating a recipe arsenal, a few favorites she could make off the top of her head. Only on special occasions such as birthdays or holidays did she stray outside that list.
One of those oft made lunch time regulars was 'cream of tomato' soup. Open a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, dump it in saucepan, add equal parts milk and heat up. It always tasted ok, but once again, it wasn't until I was much older that I found out the milk was not supposed to curdle in the soup. (What did I care, I was hungry and it helped release the peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth.)
In 1974 there were only five kids left at home. Mom and Dad had recently acquired 160 acres of farmland that held the dream of independence from "the man" for my Father. In order for that dream to stand a chance, Mom started working six days a week and I learned how to cook and wash clothes. I learned how to fry left over potatoes in bacon drippings (we always had potatoes for dinner unless Dad was gone, then it was macaroni), scorch hamburgers, reheat canned green beans and to defrost frozen strawberries to serve over vanilla ice cream. After mastering this basic meal it wasn't long before I discovered Mom's (rarely used) cookbooks. I approached my Mom about trying out a few new recipes. She was more than willing to do the shopping for the needed ingredients. It was a win-win situation; kept me interested in learning to cook so she didn't have to!
Long story short, I did learn to cook through much trial and error. I learned how to combine flavors, shortcuts for measuring, how not to make my asparagus spears turn to mush and how to keep dairy from curdling in your tomato soup. I am always trying new recipes and have a binder of successful recipes splattered with grease, sauce and other undefinable flecks. Some of these recipes are on nice 4x6 index cards, others are recipes clipped from the newspaper or magazine and many are written on whatever scrap paper happens to be around when the ingredients are shared.
This tomato bisque (fancy name for cream of tomato soup) recipe is one of my favorites. It is written on half an envelope with very limited instructions (five individual words to be exact). With little more than the ingredients and order in which to mix them, it would make absolutely no sense to anyone else. I decided scanning and posting this would be confusing to most and thereby wrote complete instructions below.
Definitely a step up from my Mom's cream of tomato soup. No offense Mom if you are reading this!
Best ever bisque!
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 sixteen ounce can of tomatoes (more or less)
- 1/2 teaspoon soda (here is the trick, it lowers the acidity in the soup so the milk won't curdle)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 Tablespoon water
- 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
- 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped basil (more to taste if you like)
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1 Cup half and half (can use milk or cream if preferred)
Sauté onions in butter on medium heat until just starting to turn golden. Add tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes are soft and falling apart (about ten minutes). Add baking soda and stir until the foaming stops, continue to simmer. At this point you can choose to use an immersion blender to get rid of the lumps and make it smooth or leave the tomatoes if you like a meatier texture.
Make a paste from the cornstarch and water and slowly add to tomato mixture stirring constantly on low to medium heat until thickened. If don't stir, the cornstarch will congeal on the bottom of the pan, risking burning the soup or worse yet leaving unappetizing clumps of starch in the soup.
Once the soup has thickened stir in the half and half and herbs, warming but not boiling the mixture. Stir in the pat of butter and serve. It is the perfect accompaniment for a crusty loaf of bread slathered in butter. Don't be afraid to dunk! (I have a super easy no-knead, artisan bread that takes a few ingredients and many hours, but very little work which I will share with you later.)
Of course recipes are always there for stealing and amending. Try adding a little course-ground black pepper or add some minced garlic to the onions (watch the heat, burnt garlic is bitter). Get really crazy with some green chilies or chipolte. I usually double this recipe to feed four people.
Eat well and be happy.