Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil Oil

This is one of the simplest recipes I will post, because recipes don't get much simpler than this. But, like many simple recipes, everything depends on the quality of the ingredients. In this case there are only three ingredients in the soup--tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. The tomatoes especially must be perfectly ripe and juicy. You want big red tomatoes that have ripened past the point of being too firm, are are naturally full of flavor and sweet. If you don't grow beefsteak tomatoes or the like, try your local farmers' market. If all you have are supermarket Roma tomatoes, I can give you other recipes that will make those tomatoes delicious, but skip this one. This soup is a vehicle for flavorful tomatoes to shine. And, let me tell you, the results are heavenly when the ingredients are good.

I made this soup because we had about a quart of sliced tomatoes leftover from 4th of July. The tomatoes were wonderful, but since they had already been sliced they were losing their texture and letting out juice. So to take advantage of that, I stuck them in the blender with some garlic and olive oil, chilled the soup, and served it with some basil oil. Yum!  But if you don't have tomatoes pre-sliced sitting around, what I would advise doing is slicing them a few hours beforehand, salting and sugaring them very lightly, and letting them sit at room temperature to let them macerate. Then come blending, chilling, and dressing the soup with basil oil (or pesto, if that is on hand).

This makes a fabulous starter soup for the summer months, especially at the beginning of an outdoor meal.

Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil Oil
serves 2 to 4, depending on serving size

4 cups thinly sliced perfectly ripe tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon sugar, depending how sweet the tomatoes are (they should be sweet if you are making this soup with them)
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
basil oil (see recipe below), pesto, or thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Toss the sliced tomatoes with the salt and sugar in a non-reactive (ideally glass or ceramic) mixing bowl. Let them macerate until they have softened some.

Put the tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil in a blender. Blend for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the soup is perfectly smooth. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour in the same non-reactive bowl, covering the soup with plastic wrap.

Garnish the soup with the basil oil, pesto, or thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, and then serve immediately. 

Basil Oil
makes around 1 cup

2 big bunches fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup olive oil, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the basil leaves until they are chopped. Start adding the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixtures reaches a texture much looser than a pesto. Adjust the amount of olive oil based on how thick you want the basil oil to be. When the texture is right, add salt and pepper to taste and process for another few seconds or until smooth enough.

Let the oil sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. After this, basil oil keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days to a week (after this it will still be good, but not as flavorful).

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