Traditionally for Valentine’s we invite friends over for dinner. This year I decided to make a monochrome meal. It’s frivolous – precisely. And since I was in a kitsch mood, the meal might as well be red. So on Monday I made a red meal for Valentine’s day: tomato soup, steak tartare, roasted red potatoes with pimentón, radicchio salad, mimolette and Red Leicester Sparkenhoe (orange being the closest thing we found to red cheese), and blood orange sorbet with blood orange slices.
(I first made a chromatic meal 10 years ago, a memorably fun black and white dinner that started with Sophie Calle and ended in the early morning hours with a drive out to see the sunrise on Fire Island. But that’s another story.)
Back to the soup. It was my first tomato soup. And I thought it turned out quite well. I hadn’t made tomato soup before because I don’t buy tomatoes in winter. I checked my most trusted cookbooks but all required the use of the “best, ripest” tomatoes. So I had to improvise, and find a way to make the most of the canned variety – i.e. use lots of other good flavors.
I was quite happy with the result. Thomas – less so. “The flavor of the broth is too strong.” Hmmm, this might be the opportune moment to mention that, in addition to being, in my opinion, quite good, this soup requires no broth. Granted it may have been the celery, or the cumin; Thomas wanted a tomato soup that tastes like tomatoes. For that he will have to wait until next summer.
2 x 28 oz. (1 lb) cans good whole peeled tomatoes
2 large onions
3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
2 bay leaves
Maldon sea salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
Crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)
Drain the tomatoes (reserve the juice), cut them lengthwise into strips, and set aside.
Peel, cut in half, and thinly slice the onions. Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a large heavy saucepan. Brown onions in the oil, stirring regularly.
Thinly slice the celery stalks. Add to the onions when they start to turn golden. Continue browning, stirring regularly.
Thinly slice the garlic. When the onions and celery are deep golden (after about 10-15 minutes), add the garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, bay leaves, and stir well. Add the tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes over high heat. Add the tomato juice, reduce the heat, and cook at a low simmer for about 35-40 minutes. Remove bay leaves, season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper, and blend until very smooth.
Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream.