Tomato & Cream of Wheat Soup
This evening, I got home late. It can happen to the best of us- and sometimes it is so that you do actually feel tired at around 9.30 pm after a long day, a commute out to the burbs and back again! Ugh! And I was cold and starving too! But at 9.30, I wasn't about to start cooking anything extravagant... or anything that would be heavy eating for that matter. All I wanted was something tasty and warming and the best thing to fix when that's the way you are feeling is always a soup!
Soups come in all styles and flavors- but in my universe- they never come out of a can! Maybe certain ingredients do, like tomatoes or beans, but the main flavors need to be provided from fresh ingredients, herbs and spices if it's going to be a soup worth eating!
I am not a fan of tomato soup- never have been... but the huge pot of basil I have standing on my window sill seemed to be trying to lure me and saying "use me!" in a very endearing way this evening... and damn! It got the better of me!
So, switching into "auto pilot" mode, as I sometimes do, I started preparing... something. I knew I was "winging it" and I knew it was going to be very simple, whatever it was that I made... but still, I didn't have any clear thoughts at that point... and still...
I began by finely chopping a small shallot and sautéing it in just a little olive oil until it became translucent. As one does. In the meantime, I did "that thing" of transforming a clove of garlic into a smooth paste, by first chopping it as finely as I could, adding a good pinch of salt and then pressing down on it with the side of the blade. I squashed the salt firmly into the garlic, before commencing the chopping over and over again, using the side of the blade to press down each time I had chopped it through. And soon enough, low and behold- there was a nice little mound of smooth and seasoned paste.
I added the garlic paste to the onion, along with a tablespoon or so of tomato paste and about 5-6 finely chopped celery leaves. I stirred these ingredients together for 2-3 minutes on a high setting and then deglazed the saucepan with a nice splash of white wine.
After the wine had bubbled away for a minute or two, I added enough boiling water to cover the onion, garlic, tomato paste mix, diluting it slightly, then added pomodoro passato- tomato, just plain, cooked, puréed tomatoes from the bottle.
Again, you could go to the trouble of boiling up tomatoes for hours on end to do this- but people- that is what Italians do for sometimes days at a time, filling up their bottles with basic tomato sauce to use in the winter months to prepare their pasta dishes, sauces and soups like this... duh! They don't go to the trouble for hours on end for each little meal- that is why these bottles of sauce exist after all! So go out and buy some and use it! Bottled or canned, cooked tomatoes are wonderful things!
I about half-filled my saucepan, which would have made a good bowl of soup, but then added a couple of tablespoons of cream of wheat, stirred it in thoroughly and topped up the pan with about the same amount again in boiling water- "stretching" the soup to two portions. The fact is- that it would otherwise be too rich in tomato flavor and feel like you are simply spooning a sauce... nope- this way it worked much better for me.
I added a good pinch of finely chopped parsley, a bay leaf, salt, pepper and nutmeg and a "glug" of milk, then gave the soup a stir and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. The milk took off any acid "edge" that the wine or tomato paste may have left and rounded the flavor off nicely with the hint of nutmeg.
This is plainly a very simple soup. It simply tastes of tomato. The basil and garlic bring out the best in the flavor of tomato, the cream of wheat adds body and a neutral base, the olive oil and the last sprinkle of black pepper the lift that makes it all dance its merry dance on your taste buds- and the result is just really, really nice!
Though this was probably one of the most basic tomato soups I have ever eaten, I think it was the one I have like the most so far... because it didn't rely on vegetable or chicken broth to give flavor, it wasn't ruined with cream and with a total cooking time of just 20-30 minutes, still tasted vibrant, fresh, fruity and good!
A hunk of bread and a sip of wine to go with my soup and I was a happy guy. Sometimes it can be that simple. Sometimes less is indeed more.