Today’s submission is tomato soup. Big deal, right? Perhaps this journal could come up with something a little more imaginative than what’s found by the hundreds of cans in any supermarket. After all, tomato soup is about as basic as it gets.
Maybe so, but here’s the interesting twist – these tomatoes are smoked, giving the soup a unique, and definitely quite appealing, profile that sets it apart from the considerable herd. This preparation was featured in the July 2015 issue of Bon Appetit, and describes what is served at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an inventive restaurant in Pocantico Hills, NY that builds most of it menu around the produce and livestock produced in the surrounding gardens, orchards, and farm.
That’s all good, but how does a cook smoke tomatoes when a smoker isn’t available? How about on an aluminum foil tray set over wood chips smoldering in a hot cast iron skillet? The example below shows how it’s done:
It’s creation born of necessity, an inspiration which is realized and is amply rewarded. In today’s case, with a superb-tasting soup that covers new territory. A fitting theme, innovation celebrated, for a restaurant adjacent to the Rockefeller family estate, itself made possible by earlier inventiveness.
The soup is, perhaps, just a bit more substantive than is typical of tomato soup. Naturally, a certain richness works well with smoke. Think of a ham. Toward this goal, some butter goes into the pot. However, the soup remains light, as befits something bursting with fresh garden produce. A perfect first course, or even light lunch, for summer. However, the butter and the smoke give it a substance that will be appreciated in a couple months, when there’s an edgee to the chill.
None of this would have been possible had not a lack of “proper” smoking equipment inspired cooks to improvise. From that humble beginning, great things have risen.
Smoked Tomato Soup
- 4 pound plum tomatoes, halved and seeded, divided
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped (*1)
- 1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced thinly
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons finely-grated horseradish
- 1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- thinly-sliced basil leaves, for serving
Scatter half a cup of hickory, pecan or apple wood chips in a cast-iron skillet. Place over a high flame and heat until the chips begin to smoke, about five minutes. Fold a piece of heavy aluminum foil in half over itself three times, until you have a square, six inches on the side. Place the aluminum square gently over the wood chips.
Place five tomato halves, cut side up, on the aluminum square. Cover the skillet loosely with another piece of heavy aluminum foil, then invert another medium skillet over the cast-iron skillet, forming a “lid.” Turn off the flame and allow the arrangement to rest for eight minutes, then remove the smoked tomatoes to a separate plate.
Meanwhile, place a stockpot over a medium flame. Pour in the oil and, when it shimmers, add the leek and the onion, stirring occasionally. Allow vegetable to soften, but not to take on color, about eight minutes. Stir in the bay leaves, coriander seeds, garlic and horseradish and cook, stirring occasionally, unto fragrant, about two minutes.
Add the non-smoked tomatoes and the broth and increase the flame to medium-high. Stir to mix. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce flame to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for 40 minutes. Let soup cool a bit, then discard the bay leaves.
Working in batches if necessary, blend the soup mixture, smoked tomatoes and butter in a blender until smooth. Strain through a medium mesh and discard any solids that remain behind. Season with salt and pepper and serve topped with sliced basil.
1 – As always, I prefer shallots; two medium-sized bulbs work best here.