If soup is comfort food, cream of tomato must be the comfiest. Grilled cheese with tomato soup has been the number one requested meal at our house for the last five weeks and I see no sense in putting a stop to that.
There are few things simpler to make. The main ingredient comes out of a can. Tomato puree is thick and deeply flavorful. But crushed tomatoes can work — the consistency is thinner, so you’ll want to use more tomato and less chicken stock.
You chop up an onion, sauté it in butter, and pour in a can of tomato puree. You make a béchamel, which sounds fancy but is nothing more than a thick sauce of butter, flour, and milk. You stir the béchamel into the tomato mixture and add some stock. You salt it. You serve it piping hot. With a dollop of sour cream, if you’re in luck.
Leftovers are never around for long, because cream of tomato soup is good with just about anything. Around here, people think it’s best with grilled cheese (bonus points for homemade sourdough and sharp cheddar). But it’s also good alongside seared scallops, or with a little lobster meat mixed in, or with sautéed greens, or nothing more than a packet of oyster crackers.
Cream of Tomato Soup
5 Tbsp. butter, divided
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cups tomato puree
2 cups stock (chicken or veggie)
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (whole milk is best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large soup pot (reserve the rest). Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes — until translucent. Add the tomato puree and stock, turn the heat to low, and let the mixture warm up slowly.
Meanwhile, make the béchamel. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, which should bind up the butter and make a sort of lumpy paste. Add the milk very slowly — a few tablespoons at time to start — whisking until smooth after each addition. Don’t go too fast or it won’t thicken up properly. Once you’ve got about a half cup of milk in there, you can start adding the rest in larger increments —a quarter to a half cup at a time, still whisking after each addition. When you’ve added all the milk the mixture should be somewhat thick, like a creamy chowder.
This is a béchamel. Let it simmer, whisking often, for about 5 more minutes, then pour it into the tomato mixture.
Whisk the soup well, taste for salt and pepper, and season accordingly.
For when you go back to this recipe over time, note the sky’s the limit when it comes to flavor add-ins — garlic, basil, cilantro, and pesto all make excellent additions.