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When Life Gives You Heirloom Tomatoes…

January 25, 2013

Last spring and summer, my husband really got into using heirloom tomatoes.  He loved the color and the variety and the taste.  At about the same time, my dad had built a couple of planter boxes in his backyard so that he could grow fruits and vegetables at home.  One day, when my husband and I were cooking and using heirloom tomatoes, my husband told me to save some of the seeds of the tomatoes and give them to my dad to see if he could grow some heirlooms at home.  So, that’s what I did.  My dad planted a few of the seeds, and in a couple of weeks, we had some growth.  Next thing you know, a few months later, we had a huge 5 ft. tall forest of heirloom tomato plants.  The first heirloom was slow in growing and ripening.  After that first tomato, there were a few more.  By this time, it was already November, and I couldn’t believe our tomato plant was still in full growth mode.  By the end of November, we had 30-40 heirloom tomatoes on the vine.  It was crazy.  And these weren’t small heirlooms, they were large, baseball-sized tomatoes.  Now with a recent freeze spell we’ve had in Southern California, the tomato plant is suffering and long past it’s growing season.  But where else in the country can you grow tomatoes outside, in your backyard, well into winter?

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At the peak of growing season, we had so many heirloom tomatoes we couldn’t keep up with them.  And of course, tomatoes don’t last very long, and heirlooms tend to be more delicate than other kinds of tomatoes.  So, what’s one supposed to do with a bunch of tomatoes that they need to get rid of?  How about roasted heirloom tomato soup?  A little time-consuming, but easy and flavorful.  And leftovers can be frozen for a rainy day!  That might be the best part about it.

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Gather the ingredients you need: heirloom tomatoes, an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, a can of diced tomatoes, and a couple of cans of vegetable broth (you can use chicken broth as well, if you prefer).

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We’re going to start by roasting the heirloom tomatoes.  On top of heirlooms, I also threw in a couple of roma tomatoes and some small yellow cherry tomatoes as well.  Roasting tomatoes brings out the sweetness of tomatoes by naturally caramelizing them.  Start by cutting the tomatoes lengthwise in half and placing them on a baking sheet.  Turn the oven on to 400 degrees.  Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil until the oil coats both sides of the tomato.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the cut tomatoes.  The salt really helps to draw out the moisture in the tomatoes.  And then pop the tomatoes into the oven for about 45 minutes to allow the heat of the oven to roast the tomatoes.

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In the meantime, prepare your other ingredients.  Small dice a whole onion.  Dicing the onion will help it cook faster and helps out your blender in the end when you need to blend the soup so that you don’t end up with large chunks of onion.

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Next, take a couple of cloves of garlic and mince them finely.  This isn’t garlic soup, so you don’t need to go overboard with the garlic, but you do want the garlic to add flavor to the soup.  Cooking the onions and the garlic together will provide a nice aromatic base to your soup.

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After 45 minutes or so, your roasted tomatoes will be ready to take out of the oven.  The tomatoes will have noticeably shrunk in size, and some of the tops of the tomatoes may also be burnt, don’t worry about it.  It’s all useable.  You’ll also see some tomato juices at the bottom of your baking sheet, as the juices ran out of the tomato as it roasted.  You’ll want to save that too to add to the flavor of the soup.

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Start with a dutch oven and heat it up on the stove with a couple of table spoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, throw in the diced onions and the minced garlic and allow both to cook.  The garlic will infuse its flavor into the onions and the oil.  Cook for 3-5 minutes until the onions are translucent.

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When the onions and garlic are ready, pour into the dutch oven an entire can of diced tomatoes with the juices.  This will help to enhance the tomato flavor in the soup.  It may seem counter intuitive to add canned diced tomatoes, but the roasted tomatoes won’t be enough to add flavor and body to the soup.

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Next you will want to julienne up a cup or a cup and a half of fresh basil.  This is one step where you really should use fresh basil rather than dried basil.  You’ll really be able to taste the freshness of the basil in the final product.  It’ll add a touch of sweetness, a pop of green color, and an earthiness to your roasted tomato soup.  When the basil is julienned, throw the fresh basil right into the dutch oven.

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The last step before the addition of the roasted tomatoes is to add in the vegetable broth.  I chose vegetable broth to help enhance the flavor of the roasted tomatoes and keep this a vegetarian dish.  You can also add in chicken broth if you’d like, or a combination of vegetable and chicken broth.  Pour 3-4 cans of the vegetable broth right into the dutch oven.  Stir together the ingredients.  You’ll see that the can of diced tomatoes and their juices are strong enough for the broth in your dutch oven to be a pinkish-orangish color as you’d expect from tomato soup.

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Finally, it’s time to add in the roasted heirloom tomatoes.  Just take the tomato halves and slide them from the baking sheet directly into the dutch oven.  Make sure that any of the tomato juices in the baking sheet make their way into the dutch oven as well.  These juices will really help to enhance the flavor of the soup.  Don’t worry about the size or chunkiness of the roasted tomatoes you’ve put into the oven.  That will get taken care of later.

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Now, turn the stove down to medium low, put the lid on the dutch oven, and walk away for 45 minutes to an hour.  Allow the ingredients in your dutch oven to come together, simmer, reduce, and for the flavors to be enhanced.

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After about 45 minutes, if you take the lid off of the dutch oven, you’ll find a slightly reduced, orange, bubbly pot of broth with tomatoes floating around in it as well as basil.  Again, it doesn’t matter what shape, size, or state the roasted tomatoes are in at this point in time.  Take a spoon and taste your broth to see if you need to add any salt and/or pepper.  Then let the dutch oven sit on the stove for a while so that the broth can cool down to room temperature.

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The soup isn’t yet ready to eat since it’s basically just a broth with chunky tomatoes and onions and basil in it.  You’ll need to blend the ingredients in the dutch oven together to create your finished roasted heirloom tomato soup.  Here’s where you need to be careful, and why you should allow the soup to come down to room temperature.  Adding hot liquid  into a blender, putting on the top and turning it on, can cause the hot air bubbles inside the blender to gain energy and basically explode the top off of the blender.  The cooler the liquid inside the blender, the easier and less dangerous it is to blend.  Of course, if you had an immersion blender, you could blend it straight in your dutch oven.  Unfortunately, I don’t own an immersion blender.  Carefully transfer the contents of the dutch oven, tomatoes, basil, onions and all into your blender.  You’ll only want to fill your blender about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way full, again to minimize the risk of having the top blow off your blender.  Therefore, you’re going to have to do this process in batches as all of your soup won’t fit into only half the blender.

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With the blender 1/3 to 1/2 full, turn on the blender and allow it to puree the contents.  Your chunky tomato broth will be transformed into smooth and velvety roasted heirloom tomato soup.  You don’t want to pulverize the mixture, you just want to blend until it’s smooth, but still has some body to it.  Just blend it enough to get rid of the chunks.

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Once all of the contents of the dutch oven have been blended, pour the blended mixture back into the dutch oven.  Heat up the roasted heirloom tomato soup once again, and do a final taste test, add any salt and/or pepper as needed.  Now, you’ve got yourself a dutch oven full of delicious, roasted heirloom tomato soup.  The soup has a nice blend of tanginess and sweetness.

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The great thing about this tomato soup, you can pack it away in freezer bags and store it in your freezer for a rainy day when you don’t want to cook and a bowl of piping hot tomato soup is the perfect thing to serve.  Heat the frozen soup in a small pan over the stove, and once it’s warmed up, you have a quick and easy meal.  What’s better on a cold winter night than comfort food; roasted heirloom tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich!  Oh, it’s so good!  When life you gives you a bunch heirloom tomatoes, why don’t you just make some roasted tomato soup?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 26, 2013 7:02 am

    I’m think you and your dad did a great job…heirloom tomatoes in the winter is special. I’m already thinking about this summer’s crop. I still have about 8 quarts of heirloom tomatoes in the freezer. Your soup had to be delicious.

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