Going to the grocery store used to be one of my favorite things. I have friends who make fun of me because I had refused to get on the time-saving grocery pick-up bandwagon… but I really like looking at my own produce… and occasionally talking to my butcher! Plus, I live in a small town, so the grocery store is basically like social hour. I see neighbors and former students, friends of my parents and my favorite checkout clerks. Of course, my own kids complain that trips take much longer than they should because I “talk too much.”
Well, no more.
I haven’t been much since the stay-at-home order started — my husband usually volunteers, desparate to get out of the house. But today, it was me. And it was a little overwhelming and sad.
One of my former students was my cashier and he didn’t recognize me behind my mask (although he said he should have known from my voice — which I’m choosing to take as a compliment). People look stressed and sad, and the shelves are still missing random stuff (Red grapes? Why are there no red grapes?)
Still, we are counting our blessings and using some pantry staples to get us through.
My youngest LOVES tomato soup. It always makes his top five list and always brings a big old smile to his face. Usually, we just serve the grilled cheese on the side… but if you’re feeling fancy, this is also fantastic prepared like French Onion Soup — oven-proof bowl, a round of toasted bread, and a lid of shredded cheddar, run under the broiler? It’s as amazing as you’d think.
But sometimes, simple is OK, too.
This one is adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb Perlman of the peerless Smitten Kitchen.
- Two 28 oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can get them, are the best)
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 onion, minced fine
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (or 3/4 cup half and half)
- chopped fresh herbs, such as basil and oregano
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Line a baking sheet with foil. Using a fork, remove the whole tomatoes from the 2 cans. Reserve the juice. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on the foil. Sprinkle the tomatoes evenly with brown sugar.
- Bake until the tomatoes start to brown around the edges, usually about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Place the butter in a large pot on the stove. Heat until melted and foaming, Add the onions and a bit of salt and cook for 6-8 minutes, until soft. Add red pepper flakes, garlic, and tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add flour and stir vigorously to prevent sticking. Cook for about a minute.
- Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add the reserved tomato juice. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated pan juices from the baking sheet. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes.
- Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth. (Alternately, you can leave it chunky or blend in a traditional blender, but allow the soup to cool, work with small batches, and vent the top of your blender if you’re going that route).
- Stir in cream or half and half and minced herbs. Taste for salt and other seasonings. This will vary widely, depending on how salty your chicken stock was.
- Serve with grilled cheese and enjoy the big smiles!