The skies are heavy with clouds. Heavy with great, heaving sobs of rain, which come and go, off and on, day and night. After each downpour the weight lifts temporarily, like a sigh of relief, before beginning again. My bare feet itch for the feel of the grass, the warm of the sun, the soft of the earth, while I wait for the storm to pass. Impatiently. These grey skies have turned me blue.
At last, the thirsty ground has drunk its fill. The world is breathing easier, now, and I venture out into my backyard — but this is not my backyard, anymore, it is a jungle. Mother nature has taken back my attempts at weeding, and everything is covered with tendrils of of green. And on the vine, I see, the first tomatoes beginning to blush, orange and red. Perhaps this stormy weather is not as bad as it seems. They are already candy sweet, and later, when I bring my hands to my face, I can still smell the sharp but pleasant aroma of their leaves.
To me, this is what summer smells like.
Of course, this is just the beginning. But the promise of sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes in combination with the recent abundance of basil I’ve been experiencing has had me craving a dish that could really embrace those summer flavors.
That was the inspiration for this soup. There is no cream or heavy ingredients, just bold, fresh tomato flavor. I paired the soup with a pesto grilled cheese sandwich, using the Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto I made last week, and some fresh buffalo mozzarella. A classic caprese combination, put together in a whole new way.
This is the best tomato soup I’ve made. It is simple and flavorful, and incredibly easy to prepare. It is also naturally vegan and gluten-free, so feel free to omit the sandwich if you want to keep it that way. I finished the soup with a drizzle of olive oil, but a dollop of pesto would top it off nicely as well.
You can find my recipe for Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto here, or use whatever pesto you like.
Garden Fresh Tomato Basil Soup
Makes about 6 servings
3-4 TBSP olive oil
3 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used about 8 vine-ripened tomatoes, but you could use heirloom, plum, or any other kind of tomato you like)
1 red bell pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
2 TBSP fresh oregano, chopped
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 cup water, as needed
salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar, optional (to round out the flavor if your tomatoes aren’t sweet enough)
1. Preheat oven to 400f.
2. Halve or quarter your tomatoes and lay the on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side up. Halve or quarter the bell pepper, remove the seeds, and lay it on the baking sheet as well. Drizzle the tomatoes and pepper liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
3. Place the tray in the oven and roast for 45-60 minutes, or until the tomatoes smell sweet and the edges have begun to shrivel up, rotating the pan halfway through.
3. In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes. Add 1 TBSP of basil and all of the roasted tomatoes, bell pepper, and the juices that have collected in the baking sheet. Stir to combine, then blend smooth with an immersion blender (or, carefully transfer the mixture to a regular blender and place a dish towel over the top to avoid splattering. Pulse a few times, then blend until smooth and return to the pot).
4. Add 1 more TBSP of basil, 1 TBSP of the oregano, and the balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine. Add water as needed to thin the soup to desired consistency.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Feel free to add a pinch of sugar, to taste, if the tomatoes aren’t sweet enough on their own. Stir in the remaining basil and oregano, and remove from heat. Serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil, or store in the fridge overnight to let the flavors mingle. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen indefinitely.
Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
ingredients needed per sandwich
2 slices crusty bread (I used sourdough, but use what you like)
1-2 TBSP fresh basil pesto (recipe here)
a couple thin slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
a couple thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese (or another cheese you like)
a couple TBSP butter for the bread and the pan
1. Heat a pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread, and add a little butter to the pan.
2. Place one slice of bread butter-side-down onto the skillet. Arrange the mozzarella and cheddar in an even layer on top of the bread.
3. On the other slice of bread, spread a couple TBSP of pesto on the opposite side as the butter. Place this slice pesto-side-down onto the cheese. Cook for 2-4 minutes, or until the bottom piece of bread is golden and toasty. Adjust the heat if needed to keep the bread from turning too dark.
4. Flip, and cook on the opposite side until it is also golden and toasty, and the cheese has become gooey and melty. Serve immediately.