This has to be one of the simplest, tastiest recipes in the world. I am a big fan of tomato soup, especially when the rain is pouring down (as it did last week) and all the best summer fruits have disappeard from the store. I want vitamin C and I want it hot and tasty.
Usually, I stick to two seasonal favourites for tomato soup: cold gazpacho in the summer and Fanny Farmer's cream of tomato soup the rest of the year. The Critic LOVES gazpacho (I could make it twice a week in the summer with no complaints, and it's one of the few dishes he'll eat as leftovers.) He's less of a fan of the cream of tomato soup, though I find it extremely soothing and comforting.
However, it was time to try to find something new. I think this will be come my new Autumn favourite, as it relies on finding the best remaining ripe red tomatoes at the end of their season.
Roast Tomato and Onion Soup (for 4 as a starter or 2 as main dish)
12 medium tomatoes, the riper the better
6 medium shallots
7 cloves of garlic
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs fresh or frozen thyme
salt and pepper to taste
crème fraiche or sour cream to garnish
Turn on your oven to 200C/400F. Remove the stem from each of the tomatoes, leaving a little well in the top of each. Fit them snugly in a roasting pan. Drizzle a little more than half the oil over the tomatoes, and sprinkle them with thyme, salt and pepper. Toss five of the cloves of garlic, still in their skins, around the tomatoes. Place the pan in the oven for about an hour, until the tomatoes have collapsed and become almost liquid.
In the meantime, peel the shallots and top the ends. Place them in a smaller roasting pan, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper. Add the remaining cloves of garlic, again with their skins intact. (You may be asking yourself why you couldn't just put everything in the same tin as the tomatoes here. You could, but if you leave them in their own pan the onions will brown nicely instead of effectively boiling in tomato juices.) Place them in the oven with tomatoes and bake until they are browned on top and smell sweet and delicious.
Remove your two pans from the oven and get out your most decorative medium-sized soup pan. (In my case it's a lovely, heavy, tomato-colored le Creuset pot!) Fish the garlic out of each of the pans with a fork and set them aside to cool. Pour the tomatoes with their juice into the soup pan and then the onions with whatever liquid they have. (There won't be much of the latter.) Squeeze each of the garlic cloves over the pan to shoot the sweet baked garlic inside the skin into the pan and throw the skins away. (Isn't that much easier than peeling them raw??)
With your handy immersion blender, blend the tomatoes, onions and garlic until you have a smooth soup. (Alternatively, you could liquidize the tomatoes and onions in a food processor, in which case you'd want to put them in there directly before pouring into your soup pot.) Bring the soup to a slow boil and taste for salt and pepper. You may also want to add some more thyme. Rosemary or oregano would also go well here. I know that basil is the herb-of-choice for tomatoes, but I feel these earthier herbs go better with the flavour of roasted tomatoes and onions.
Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream in the middle and either some home-made croutons, or - better still - slices of toast with toasted sharp cheese on them. I used this occasion to clean out the fridge of some cheeses that were either on their last legs (tomme de chevre) or not suitable raw for pregnant women (mont d'or, mmmm).
It's a delightful grown up version of the lunch my mother always made me when I was sick as a child: Campbell's Cream of Tomato Soup and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Here, however, the roast tomatoes and roast onions have a more sophisticated flavour and the sharp cheeses were a mile away from Kraft American slices. You don't have to be sick to appreciate this meal!
And the Critic's evaluation of this departure? Very good, but it would have been better with a little bit of hot pepper oil. But then he says that about nearly everything!
A note on the skins: I know many recipes call for skinning your tomatoes before or after roasting them. The tomatoes I used were thin-skinned enough that the skins really did disappear in the soup. If yours seem thicker or you are really against finding any tiny rolls of skin in the soup, I would recommend roasting the toms with the skins and removing them after roasting. They really do just pull away once the tomatoes have cooked. I just like to leave in the roughage and vitamins whenever possible. And I'm lazy.