Sprawled on my couch watching Julie & Julia after a topnotch lunch at Greenhouse Grille this past Saturday, my dear friend Bev and I were chatting about cooking, eating, grocery shopping, saffron, menu planning, dry vermouth, and food in general. We started brainstorming ideas for, appropriately, this week’s Flyer Foodie – and on a second bottle of wine, some of those ideas can get reaaally interesting… “You know, that soup you made for our girls’ luncheon a couple of years ago was really, REALLY good”, she said. (And just out of curiosity, how in the world does Bev even remember a soup I made ONCE a couple of YEARS ago? I can’t even remember what I had for dinner night before last!)
The soup she was referring to was a tomato soup I came up with in a pinch, after volunteering to host a girls’ luncheon. I had resolved to keep the lunch simple, light and relatively uncomplicated – soup, crusty bread, salad, the end – until I started reviewing my recipe folder and was at a complete loss as to what to make. Italian Wedding Soup? No, meatballs are too time-consuming. Hot and sour soup? No, never had much luck with that one. Beef and blueberry soup? What in the – who put this recipe in here?!
The day of the luncheon upon me, I panicked – then opened my refrigerator door. In my fridge, among other things, was a pint of heavy cream, a half-empty bottle of white wine, some chicken stock and a jar of store bought pesto. With an onion and a couple of cans of diced tomatoes in my pantry, I knew exactly what to make.
To many, tomato soup conjures up memories of an orangey, gelatinous liquid in a can, with its salty, oddly sweet, Spaghetti-O-esque flavor, served alongside a smooshed, greasy grilled cheese sandwich. To others, it invokes visions of Andy Warhol’s famous silkscreen art. Whatever the association, tomato soup has long gotten the short end of the culinary stick, so to speak. Its limits are historically narrow – and rather boring: tomato, onion, basil, oregano, stock, zzzzzz… Where’s the style, the adventure, the pizzazz, the flavor?
Much of this soup’s flavor comes from the pesto, which brings an intensely garlicky, basil-y kick to an otherwise tame pot of soup. Second to the pesto is the cream, which mellows out the tomatoes’ tart acidity and adds a rich, velvety consistency. The texture is made smooth and creamy with the help of a handy-dandy immersion blender (thanks, Mom!) – or you could certainly use a food processor and blend it in batches. For those who like some spice, feel free to add a few liberal dashes of cayenne or a heaping tablespoon of Sambal Olek.
But what tomato soup is complete without bread alongside? As an homage to Julie & Julia’s drool-inducing bruschetta scene, I made a garlic parmesan frybread to accompany this past Sunday’s soup lunch. As seen in the movie, Julie fries her bread – yes, fries – before topping it with beautifully chopped heirloom tomatoes. For my bread, after a quick fry in olive oil, I rubbed a garlic clove over the hot slices, and topped them with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Um, yes. YES. That’s all I have to say about that.
If you’re bored with your usual Campbell’s or Progresso, give this great soup recipe a shot. It’s simple, inexpensive, and will definitely wow you – and your guests. Enjoy!
Tomato Pesto Soup with Garlic Parmesan Frybread
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 c. white wine
4 (14 oz.) cans diced of tomatoes
4 c. chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 10 oz. jar of pesto
1 parmesan rind (optional)
2 c. heavy cream
Heat the olive oil and 2 Tbs. of the butter in a deep pot. Add the minced onion and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until softened – make sure the onion doesn’t start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Let the wine come to a boil and cook for about a minute. Add the 4 cans of tomatoes, stock and pesto to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to low and simmer for 30 min.
Remove from heat and blend soup with an immersion blender in the pot, or in batches in a food processor. Return soup to the pot and over low heat, stir in the heavy cream – do not let the soup come to a boil. Once heated through, remove from heat. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. butter and melt into the soup. Serve hot.
Garlic Parmesan Frybread
1/4 c. olive oil
1 loaf favorite crusty bread, thickly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, halved (4 halves)
1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread and fry over medium heat, turning once, until both sides are golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the bread from the skillet and drain on paper towels. While the bread is still hot, rub a garlic clove half over each side of the bread. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Serve immediately.
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Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.