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Practicing the basics: tomato basil soup

Tomato-basil soup is amazing comfort food on a cold day. It’s also very easy to make. Below are two recipes: a quick-and-dirty approach that only take about ten minutes, and a slightly more involved version with a few more ingredients that you can make in about half an hour. Both demonstrate the usefulness of keeping canned tomatoes in your pantry.

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Quick and Dirty Tomato Basil Soup

Makes about 2 servings. Time required: 15-20 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 28 oz. can stewed tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 cup cream or half-and-half
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 4-5 large basil leaves

Cook the bacon until fully cooked (but not crispy) and fat has rendered off. Drain on a paper towel, then dice into small pieces (1/4 to 1/2 an inch). There are lots of ways to cook bacon. When you are preparing it as an ingredient in something else rather than serving it directly, the fastest way is to microwave it between layers of paper towels. The paper towels will absorb the bacon fat and prevent the bacon from spattering all over the inside of your microwave. How long it takes to cook will depend on both your microwave and how much bacon you’re cooking; cook it 1 minute at a time and check it in between cooking intervals. And remember: never pour bacon fat down the sink!!!

Chiffenade the basil leaves. This means slicing it up into thin strips. Here’s a video of how to do it (it’s easy).

Put the tomatoes (with liquid), bacon and cream in a small saucepan. Heat it gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins give off steam steam (don’t bring to a full boil). It will start to steam at around 180 degrees F.

Remove from heat. Stir in the basil. Season to taste. Basil does not stand up well to cooking; by adding it after we’re done heating the soup, it will wilt a bit but it will retain some texture and all of its flavor.

Serve immediately.


Tomato-Basil Soup: The Long(er) Version

Makes about 4 servings, depending on your portion size. Time required: 25 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 6-8 large basil leaves, divided (i.e. we’re not going to use it all at the same time)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Chiffenade the basil leaves (see above).

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and let it cook for one minute. This “blooms” the tomato paste, waking up and intensifying its flavor.

Stir in onion and salt. Saute until onion is soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, thyme and three-quarters of the basil, and cook until the tomatoes have softened and fall apart, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and sugar, and heat until it just begins to boil. We’re going to cook most of the basil so that its flavor combines with the other ingredients, but we’re keeping some to mix in right at the end to boost the basil flavor.

Stir in the remaining basil, and season to taste.

Tips and suggestions:

  • You can substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock in either of these recipes.
  • You can go in the other direction and add bacon to the second recipe. In the first recipe the bacon serves the same purpose as the onion and tomato paste in the second; if you do add bacon, start with a small amount and consider whether you need to reduce the onion and/or tomato paste so the other flavors don’t overwhelm the tomato flavor.
  • In the second recipe you can substitute fresh diced tomatoes for the canned (about 3 cups, including liquid), but you will need to peel them first which requires a bit of time and effort. The easiest way to peel tomatoes is to drop them whole into a pot of simmering water for one minute, then remove them and let them cool. Once cooled, you should be able to make a quick slash through the skin and then peel it away in large sections.