Appetizer of the Week: Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato soup in America is usually served warm, but the dish’s origins are in Spain, where pureed vegetables are often served cold during the summer months. But in the winter, gazpacho gives way to traditionally hot soups. Tomato soup from a can probably evokes memories of childhood, when mom made you grilled cheese and tomato soup after a day of playing in the fall leaves. The first tomato soup recipe in America was published in 1872 by Maria Parola, one of the first and foremost authorities on Home Economics. Tomato soup in a can was invented by Dr. John Dorrance, who was nephew of the founder of Campbell’s soup. Although the company had no expectations of Dorrance, that changed in 1897 when he came up with the idea of removing the water from soup and selling it condensed, in a can.

Although tomato soup in a can still tastes good when you are in a hurry, there’s a new way to make tomato soup the old-fashioned way, not from a can, that will wow your guests and nourish your soul.

What You Need

4 cups chopped seeded peeled tomato (about 4 large tomatoes, ripened)
4 cups low-sodium tomato juice
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
Basil leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices diagonally cut French bread baguette

Directions: Bring the tomato and juice to a boil in a large saucepan. Then immediately reduce heat and simmer tomatoes and juice uncovered for 30 minutes. Place the tomato and juice mixture and the basil in a food processor. A standard blender will work justa s well. Return the pureed mixture to the sauce pan. Stir in the milk, salt and pepper, stirring constantly. Add the cream cheese. Make sure you stir the cream cheese thoroughly with a whisk. Cook these ingredients over medium heat until the soup thickens. This usually takes approximately 5 minutes. Then ladle soup into individual bowls and garnish with sliced basil. Basil is optional, but really adds an earthy taste to the tomatoes. As always, soup is best served with bread. The crustier the bread, the better it is for dipping in the soup. I typically used a French baguette, but day old bread, garlic bread, or good old traditional white bread and butter are also favorites.

This soup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week. It can become a meal rather than an appetizer by adding a sandwich on the side. To make a complementary grilled cheese, choose the same bread that you are serving on the side. French baguette or focaccia bread are great choices. Slice thin and brush on some olive oil rather than the traditional butter. Lay a slice of cheese and one basil leaf on each sandwich. Grill. You can kick it up a notch by adding some meat to the sandwich (making it a panini). Experiment with ham, turkey and Italian sausage. Brush on some pesto sauce to make it a truly Italian delight.

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