Everyone has a soup story of some sort. Some are long, some short, some happy and some sad. Some are utterly forgettable, lost in the sands of time right along with the rest of our mundane and forgotten food experiences. For some, their soup story might have a beautiful beginning, maybe about how they first learned to make it while away at summer camp (one of my childhood friends claims this story; the soup was chicken). Others might have soup stories with endings of a more tragic sort, during which the soup was actually responsible for three wicked cases of food poisoning, two inconvenient trips to the urgent treatment clinic, and one very unhappy household. This story belongs to a dear friend of mind, and the soup was wonton.
My own memory is sort of bizarrely anchored by food experiences. In fact, my husband always gives me a hard time about how I might not remember the details of a conversation, but I sure as heck will recall exactly what I had to eat while conversing. “One of your eccentricities,” he’ll joke. This all being the case, I have food stories that revolve around all kinds of different meals, both grandiose and trivial in scope. From the typically forbidden orange soda memory that came as a treat after my first broken bone, to the calamari memory that is attached to my husband’s marriage proposal. My mind is nothing if not a steel trap for culinary happenings. Strange, I suppose.
But as far as my fondest food memories go, there are plenty from which to choose. In fact, many of the posts on this blog will and do inevitably stem from them. But few of my food memories are more pronounced and unforgettable than the one that involves tomato soup …
The year was 1991 and I was in the first grade at my small elementary school in Richmond, KY. I always loved school and enjoyed almost every aspect of that typical school day. From the bus rides and recess shenanigans to my teachers and their various teaching methods, I was appreciative of just about everything. This “everything” included school lunch, as you might have already guessed. If I stop to take a second here, I think I can almost smell the distinctively pungent and unmistakable scent of my first school cafeteria. Sort of plasticine and soapy, moldy and yeasty all at the same time, and warm – it was always warm in that room. I remember one winter day during that first grade year of mine, I was sitting at the lunch table with my friends, talking about whatever it is that seven-year-olds talk about. I distinctly recall being exited about the fact that I had packed my lunch that day, and inside my My Little Pony lunchbox was a thermos of tomato soup. My own thermos! Cool points for sure.
My sweet friend, Lucy, was sitting across from me at the time and I noticed that she was gazing longingly at my soup, looking like she would just die for some of her own. I was cool with sharing so I procured a small styrofoam bowl and plastic spoon from the front of the lunch line and even sprinkled her soup with some of my packaged saltine crackers (a garnish loving foodie, even at age seven). She seemed grateful for all of this, Lucy did, and all was copasetic for about the next, oh I don’t know, twenty minutes or so. As lunch was drawing to a close, I remember talking to Lucy and thinking she wasn’t listening to me very well. Or maybe more specifically, I recall the look of misery on her face and the lack of color in her cheeks. As I was doing this noticing, I’ll be darned if she didn’t throw up the entire contents of her stomach all over the table right in front of me. It was a veritable deluge of tomato soup, eaten just moments before.
Wow! Amazing! I thought to myself, fascination taking hold before the revulsion and shock set in. I freaked out a little and was frozen in my seat, probably not knowing what to do in that moment. So, the regurgitated soup proceeded to drip down over the table’s edge and onto my lap. I will NEVER forget it. Apparently, I had mistakenly interpreted Lucy’s expression as one of longing when actually she was just beginning to feel ill. The poor thing never said anything about that and just proceeded to slurp up the soup as if there wasn’t a small category hurricane brewing in her stomach. Lucy went home early from school that day, and I had to find a change of clothes.
So, my tomato soup story is not really a happy one, as you may have been expecting. It’s actually downright gross. Apologies for that. It took me years to actually eat tomato soup again, but I’m pleased to report that I am completely cured of that temporary yet fierce aversion. In fact, I make it now with relative frequency and find it to be a fantastic canvas for other flavors. This recipe is delicious and showcases the tomato beautifully while also letting the roasted peppers shine through. Again, I’m sorry if my story grossed you out – perhaps I should have prefaced it with a warning. Hopefully it won’t prevent you from trying this recipe.
Oh, and to Lucy, wherever you are … I hope that you, too, are able to eat and enjoy tomato soup once again.
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque RECIPE
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 cups canned, diced tomatoes
1½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
The leaves from three sprigs of thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp sugar
1¼ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Walnuts, grated parmesan cheese, and walnut oil for garnish (or whatever you like, or nothing at all)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place peppers skin-side up on baking sheet. Add the sliced onion and garlic cloves. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pepper skins brown. Place the peppers in a sealable plastic bag for about 5 minutes and then remove skins. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and stock. Boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for a minute. Add the roasted peppers, onions and garlic.
Simmer for 15 minutes, and then transfer to blender (in batches if necessary). Puree until smooth and add the soup mixture back into the saucepan. Add the basil, sugar, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes more. Cut the heat and add your heavy cream.
Ladle into serving bowls and garnish until your heart’s content.