A few weeks ago, my friend Karen Beth asked me to find her a recipe for a creamy tomato-basil soup without any cream. Or half-and-half. Or butter. Something with the flavor but not all the fat. And, preferably meatless, so no chicken stock.
OK. So. At first, I played around with just reducing the high-fat dairy or replacing some of it a healthier alternative, like Greek yogurt. But then I stumbled onto this Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s like a very bare-bones Pappa Al Pomidoro, a Tuscan tomato soup thickened with bread. You make a very basic tomato soup, add three torn slices of white bread, bring it to a boil, and then either transfer the soup to a blender (in stages) or process it in the pot with an immersion blender. The bread thickens the soup and takes some away some of the tomato bite without making the soup dull.
Once you process the soup, you can strain it back into the pot to make it even smoother (if you so desire), and then add vegetable broth and brandy (completely optional). This recipe makes quite a bit of soup, so I like to make the basic tomato and then add the herbs (usually basil or chives) to each bowl for some variety. But if you taste the soup and you’re still missing the cream, stir in a spoonful. You’ll still be getting less fat than if you added the typical amount of cream to the entire pot. Baby steps, baby steps.
Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated” (September 2008)
Serves 6 to 8
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (optional)
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes in juice
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste)
- 3 large slices good-quality white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups vegetable broth (originally chicken broth)
- 2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.
- Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using a potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain.
- Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard.
- Transfer half of soup to a blender, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and repeat with remaining soup and oil. (Or, use an immersion blender to process the soup directly in the pot.) For an even smoother soup, pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer before returning it to the pot.
- Return soup to pot. Stir in broth and brandy (if using). Return soup to a boil; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve soup in individual bowls. Sprinkle each portion with pepper and basil, and drizzle with olive oil, if you’d like.