Here in Atlanta, we're in between time. In between seasons. The brutal, smothering heat and humidity have given way to beautiful breezy days and nights – my favorite nights – that require a hoodie or a sweater when darkness falls. It's also signaled a change in eating habits. The first glimpse of autumn greens and squash have hit the market place and all of the fall flavors are pretty inspiring – more baking, soups and cooking with heartier ingredients. That desire to settle down, be cozier, and make more comfort foods is right in line with my current state of mind – I need something soothing but not heavy – and I couldn't be happier about it.
One thing I'm not ready to let go of, however, are my beloved tomatoes. Contrary to popular opinion, tomatoes are still stunning and delicious in these Indian summer months, which here in Atlanta extend well through October. I've been gifted with some beautiful heirlooms in the past weeks (Thanks, James!) that were as yummy as anything I taste in June or July.
In an effort to reconcile my two desires – the brightness of tomato flavor and the comfort of cozy, warm soup – I threw together this quick tomato soup recipe. Instead of being a heavy cream-based soup, I pureed some tomatoes (I'm eating the heirloom ones plain and using great-quality canned tomatoes for this soup) and added some crisp flavor elements to lighten up the taste. While cooking, I zested a lemon and then simmered the two halves in the soup while it cooked. Towards the end of the cooking process, I threw in some torn bits of basil. If you're eating it as a meal in its own, you can do what I did and add some small pasta to the mix – orzo or ditalini are ideal. All together, you have a crisp yet filling meal to help you transition, too.
Tomato-Lemon Soup – makes 4 servings
• 2 tbsp. butter
• ½ Yellow Onion – chopped
• 1 tbsp. garlic – minced
• 28 ounces of packaged tomatoes – I used good quality canned Roma and cherry tomatoes
• 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 Lemon
• Salt & Pepper – to taste
• Basil for garnish
• 1 cup orzo or other small pasta – optional
* Chili Flakes (for optional heat)
– Heat the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is very tender - between 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and chili flakes, if adding. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Add the zest of one lemon and then cut in half & add to the pot. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes. Using a stick blender, puree the soup to desired consistency, making sure you remove the lemon halves beforehand. You can also puree the soup in a blender in batches, if desired. Stir in pasta and cook until it is al dente, approximately 6-8 minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste and add the torn basil.