Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roasted Tomato, Parsnip and Basil Soup... with Gruyére Cheese Toasts

It's hard to beat a great tomato soup served along with some crisp rustic bread slathered with melted cheese. It's just a comfy, soothing combination... like a great book and a toasty fire; each can be enjoyed on its own, but put together they become kind of magical.

And, surprisingly, making tomato soup from fresh tomatoes in the thick of Fall is kind of a perfect way to eat the less-than-spectacular bounty of tomatoes in markets this time of year. While sweet, sun-ripened, straight-off-the-vine tomatoes are about as good as it gets, they are truly not required to produce a tasty tomato soup. Ho-hum tomatoes can make a Cinderella-like transformation with little to no effort... and just a little time.

Seemingly tasteless plum tomatoes drizzled with just a touch of olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper turn into such delicious little bites that it's hard not to eat them straight from the sheet pan. They're great in soups... and also great in pastas, sandwiches, and salads.

This soup is simply a combination of slow roasted tomatoes and roasted parsnips, blended up with a little fresh basil and vegetable broth. It's a great way to "cream up" a fresh tomato soup without adding any dairy. The parsnips offer a sweet, mellow balance to the tartness of the tomatoes and also serve as a bit of a thickening agent. And, like the roasted tomatoes, are hard to resist straight out of the oven. (Truly, you can cut these like fries and serve them up with a little ketchup... or on their own... they are so good.)

Roasted Tomato, Parsnip and Basil Soup
makes approximately 6 to 8 cups

Though the tomatoes need to roast for two hours, they require little to no thought. Just pop them into the oven, set the timer, and forget about them.

12 to 15 plum tomatoes, seeded (not cored) and halved (about 2 1/2 pounds)
4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
2 cups peeled and diced parsnips (about 3 large)
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves
1 32-ounce carton organic vegetable broth

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Place tomato halves, cut-side up, on a large sheet pan; drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each granulated sugar, salt and pepper. Place in oven and set timer for two hours.

2. When tomatoes are done, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Increase oven temp to 400 degrees F. and place parsnips on cleared sheet pan; drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast parsnips for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.

3. Add roasted parsnips to tomatoes. Tear basil leaves and drop into processor. Add a cup or so of vegetable broth and pulse mixture until well combined and smooth. Transfer mixture to soup po and add remaining 32-ounces of vegetable broth. Heat through and serve immediately.

Serving suggestion: Toast slices of baguette, top with shredded gruyére cheese and broil until melted; about 1-2 minutes. Watch carefully... they burn quickly.

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