Tomato Pesto Soup

Tomato Pesto Soup

*Photos and Content Updated June 2012*

Inspiration: I need to experiment more with weekend lunches. For some reason, I usually just resort to whatever we can scrounge up from the pantry. But why? Weekends at home are really the perfect time to cook more. And our cat Boots seems to agree! Somehow, he got it into his head that sitting on top of the refrigerator and meowing/nuzzling my head when I walk by/doing any cute thing that he can think of every time that I come near him means that he will receive treats. He was my buddy the entire time that I was whipping up this soup.

What we Loved: This soup has a rich, garlicky flavor from all of the pesto, which is such a great complement to tomatoes in any form. It’s really just a classic Italian-flavored soup with a nice little spin. I love the dollop of extra pesto served on top, which adds a bright burst of herbal flavor, and I can never get enough black pepper freshly ground atop my tomato soup. For some reason, I’ve just always loved that flavor contrast of bright tomato and spicy pepper – from tomato soup with pepper to freshly sliced grape tomatoes with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper on top. What a great and classic pairing.

Helpful Hints: Don’t skip the butter in this recipe. It really cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, leaving you with a balanced flavor (plus just a touch of a buttery flavor, which is always a plus). You can also use less stock and/or more half and half for a creamier soup.

Tomato Pesto Soup
Source: Original Recipe

Butter, for sauteeing
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, to keep this vegetarian)
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
6 tablespoons pesto
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 1/2 cups half and half

1. Heat a pat of butter in a large pot. Saute the onion until softened, then add the garlic. Cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, sundried tomatoes, and pesto. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat, and blend with an immersion blender or food processor. Return to very low heat, and add the butter and half and half. Stir well to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Serve with a dollop of additional pesto and freshly ground black pepper.

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*Photos and Content Updated June 2012*

Inspiration: What to do with a surplus of garden tomatoes and cucumbers (more thanks to Brandon’s parents)? Knocking out a soup recipe that has been on my to-make list for ages sounded like a plan. And in the knick of time, too, as my mind is already in chili/stew mode.

What we Loved: What a refreshing soup. After trying gazpacho for the first time a few months back at a restaurant, we both knew that we would love a homemade version. If you haven’t had gazpacho before, it may sound odd or unappetizing to eat a cold tomato soup, but it really is unexpectedly good. It’s wonderfully refreshing, with nice crisp cucumbers and peppers and just a little kick of spice from the jalapenos. This soup is so chock full of vegetables and spices that there’s a great combination of (peeled, seeded, and skinned) vegetables in every bite. At the same time, the soup is nice and mild without any flavors that are too strong or overpowering. This is a fantastic end-of-summer work week lunch or a great light dinner served alongside some grilled chicken breasts.

Helpful Hints: This one is really a simple recipe, but it requires a lot of peeling, dicing, and seeding – so make sure to leave plenty of time. Depending on what kind of texture you prefer, you could throw as much or as little of vegetable mixture into the blender for a super chunky soup or one that is completely pureed. But I think that the recipe as written is a good balance. After all that work, it would be a shame to puree it all.

Source: Alton Brown

I made some slight changes to the recipe, and I also made a double batch. Here’s the recipe for a single batch (serving 4) with my changes.

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 4 large)
Tomato juice (from tomatoes; directions follow)
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Handful cilantro, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Fill a pot with water, and bring to a boil.

2. Make an X with a knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop them into the boiling water, boil for about a minute, and then remove. Let cool.

3. Peel the tomatoes. Chop off the top of the tomato with the core, and then cut the tomatoes into quarters. Place a mesh sieve over a large bowl, and seed and juice each tomato portion over the sieve, pressing as much of the juice as possible through the sieve with your hands. You should end up with about 1 cup of juice. If necessary, supplement with store bought tomato juice, or just use whatever amount you end up with from the fresh tomatoes (which is what I did).

4. After juicing/seeding the tomatoes, chop them into small pieces. Place the tomatoes into the bowl with the juice. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

5. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture (use more – or all – if desired) to a blender, and puree (or use an immersion blender). Return the pureed mixture to the bowl, and stir to combine.

6. Cover and chill for at least two hours before serving.

Italian Eggplant Stacks

Inspiration: Brandon’s mom stopped by last week with a huge basket of fresh vegetables for us from their garden, including a pile of gorgeous eggplants and fresh tomatoes. Love.

What we Loved: This meal really surprised both of us. When I was planning it, I worried that the meal would be difficult to eat because of the arrangement, and most of all I worried that it would end up as a pile of mushy vegetables, which I would hate (particularly mushy eggplant!). However, we both thought that these were fantastic! To avoid the mushy factor, I took the eggplant slices out of the pan while they were still a little bit firm, and I cut my tomatoes into nice, thick slices. A fork and a steak knife cut these right into neat bites. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the eggplant slices had a wonderful browned crust, and the big dollops of oily pesto worked as such a fantastic, garlicy sauce. Is there anything more summer than this?

Helpful Hints: I think that it’s most important to use very fresh, crisp vegetables in this dish, because as I mentioned, I don’t think that mushy eggplant and tomato slices would leave you with a good meal. Taking the eggplant out of the pan before it got mushy and cutting the tomatoes into thick slices worked well for me.

Eggplant Caprese Stacks
Source: Original Recipe, to serve 2

1 eggplant
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 small tomatoes, thickly sliced
4 tablespoons pesto
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Cheese of preference

1. Slice the eggplant into 8 thick slices. Place the slices in a colander, and sprinkle them well with salt. Let the slices sit for 30 minutes. This will help to draw the water out of the eggplant.

2. Rinse the salt from the eggplant, and pat the slices very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with black pepper.

3. Heat a decent amount of butter in a saute pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the eggplant slices, and saute until nicely browned on one side, approximately 5 minutes. Flip, and then saute the second side until the eggplant is browned on both sides and slightly softenened (but not mushy).

4. Just before the eggplant slices are done cooking, add slices of cheese to the top of each one to melt.

5. Arrange the cheese-covered eggplant slices, tomato slices, pesto, and basil leaves in stacks as desired.  

Zucchini Basil Soup

Zucchini Basil Soup

*Photo and Content Updated July 2012*

Inspiration: When I first ran across this soup recipe, I really thought that it had our names written all over it. For one, Brandon and I love basil and love anything that involves it. The idea of pureeing it in a soup seemed brilliant and was something that had never occured to me. And secondly, all of the fresh zucchini and basil really make this a great summer soup, which is a bit unusual and different (….just in case the mood for a soup happens to hit on a 90 degree day).

What we Loved: My best description of this soup would be that it tasted like a pesto soup. Amazing! I used a lot more basil than originally called for, and I also added a Parmesan rind to the soup as it cooked. When I mixed the shredded Parmesan in at the end, this really had a lot of the components of a classic pesto. The zucchini, which was the bulk of the soup, had such a smooth and subtle vegetable flavor and added a wonderful creaminess. I think I’d list this as one of my favorite soups to date.

Helpful Hints: The Parmesan was delicious mixed into this soup, so I’d recommend having plenty on hand. I originally wanted to saute some chopped prosciutto until it was crispy and use that as a  topping, too, but my store was out of prosciutto. I still think  that it would be a wonderful addition, though. Pine nuts would also be great and contribute even further to that pesto-like flavor.

Zucchini Basil Soup
Source: Adapted from Caviar and Codfish, originally from Gourmet

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 lbs zucchini, roughly chopped
3 cups stock (use vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian)
1 cup loose basil leaves
1 Parmesan rind
Kosher salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Heat a pat of butter in a pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent, about 3-4 minutes, and then add the garlic. Cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the zucchini and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

3. Add the stock and the Parmesan rind, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the Parmesan rind. Puree the soup along with the basil using a food processor or immersion blender.

5. Season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti Squash with Vodka Sauce, Goat Cheese, and Basil

Inspiration: With one more spaghetti squash kicking around in my kitchen from the winter, I thought that it would be the perfect time to make a homemade vodka sauce. Plus, I’ve been dying for some goat cheese lately!

What we Loved: The vodka sauce in this meal is really a lovely sauce. It’s lighter than something like a hearty meat sauce, yet it’s still really rich with creamy tomato flavor. To me, vodka sauce has always been much better than a basic marinara because the tomato and vegetable flavors taste so much richer and more pronounced. Perhaps even more important, the consistency of the sauce is really wonderfully creamy, which is something that I’ve always prefered over a plain marinara. And my favorite component of the entire meal? The goat cheese, of course! It completely melts right down into the sauce and adds a perfect finishing touch.

Helpful Hints: I’ve had problems with tomato-based sauces being too acidic before. I always thought that adding sugar was the only way to counteract that acidity, but sugar isn’t something that I prefer to use. I learned from this recipe that adding butter to your finished sauce will do the trick, too. A few pats in my pan really balanced out that acidic bite and left me with a much cleaner tomato flavor. Learning awesome new tricks like that is one of my favorite things about cooking :)

Spaghetti Squash with Vodka Sauce, Goat Cheese, and Basil
Source for the vodka sauce: adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

For the sauce
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, minced
2 dried bay leaves
Kosher salt and black pepper
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

To finish the meal
1 spaghetti squash, cooked*
Goat cheese
Basil leaves, finely sliced

1. In a large saute pan, heat a good drizzle of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, and saute until soft. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, basil, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until the sauce is thick.

3. Remove the bay leaves, and taste for seasoning. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavor.

4. Add the vodka to the sauce, and simmer until the mixture reduces by 1/4, approximately 20 minutes.

5. Stir in the cream and Parmesan, and simmer until the sauce is well blended and heated through.

6. Serve the sauce over cooked spaghetti squash and topped with goat cheese and basil.

*To cook your spaghetti squash, poke it all over with a fork. Place it into the oven at 400 degrees, and bake for 1 hour. Slice the squash in half, remove the seeds from the center, and pull the strands out of the squash with a fork.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Inspiration: As always, I love finding new soup recipes so that B and I can have some variety in our weekday work lunches. This was a great one to put on the list because it could take another chunk out of a spare container of sour cream in my fridge. Those things are so hard to use up when you don’t really need them, aren’t they?

What we Loved: B and I both love the flavor of mushrooms, so we of course loved this soup. It was full to the brim with mushrooms in every bite! And the broth had a nice, creamy paprika flavor similar to the sauce in the chicken paprikash that  I made earlier this week. I really loved the earthiness of this soup and its simplicity.

Helpful Hints: Sauteeing the onions and mushrooms takes some time, because there are a lot of them. Make sure that you have 15-20 minutes or so to get them cooked through!

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Source: Eat Me, Delicious, originally from AllRecipes

I made some changes to the recipe, mainly to make more servings and to omit the flour carbohydrates. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

Extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 heaping teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon soy sauce
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian)
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Saute the onions and mushrooms until all of the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables are softened and starting to brown, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2. Stir in the dill, paprika, soy sauce, chicken stock, and milk. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, cilantro, and sour cream. Whisk together well, and allow the soup to heat through before serving.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup

*photos updated December 2011*

Inspiration: It was another week, and B and I needed another soup to take to work for lunches!

What we Loved: The flavor of this soup was really fantastic. It was rich and earthy, full of the herby flavors of thyme and rosemary and the great earthiness of mushrooms. I really can’t think of a better word than earthy to describe this meal. And being finished with cream, I found this soup to be very filling, too! I could barely finish my lunch servings. I’ve really grown to love mushrooms over the past few years, and B has always loved them, so we both quite enjoyed the rich mushroom flavor that this soup had to offer.

Helpful Hints: Since mushrooms are the predominant ingredient in this soup, I wouldn’t give it a try unless you’re sure that you love them! It’s a mushroom meal through and through. That being said, if you do like mushrooms, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll love this soup! I used thyme and rosemary as my complimenting herbs, but the original recipe called for thyme and sage. Oregano or tarragon would also work well, I think, if you prefer those herbs. The soup will have a little bit of a different spin depending on which herbs you use, but the mushrooms are really the main flavor, so there’s some room to experiment.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
Source: Closet Cooking

I was trying to stretch the recipe, so I used more mushrooms than called for. I also changed the herbs and decided not to roast the mushrooms to save some time. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

Extra virgin olive oil
24 oz baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
2 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups stock (I used chicken, but use vegetable to keep this recipe vegetarian)
1 cup heavy cream

1. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspooon of the thyme, and salt and pepper. Saute until the water released from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2. While the mushrooms are cooking, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, and cook until softened, approximately 4-5 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, additional teaspoon of thyme, and rosemary to the pot with the onions. Cook for an additional minute.

4. Add the mushrooms and the stock, and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor.

6. Mix in the heavy cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  I ended up adding about a teaspoon of salt in total, but make sure to add the salt slowly and adjust to your preference.