Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Totino's Pizza Rolls. Campbell's Tomato Soup. These are all delicious, if corporate and perhaps a touch neon, foodstuffs. No snobbism here: I love these things, and it's pretttty likely that you—yes, you there, you reading this—love them, too. They're comforting. They're easy. They taste the way they always did. And so, despite what fussbudget foodie-type folks say, they've earned their place in our kitchens fair and square.
But loving the blue box, or the comforting thwap of a tube of condensed soup hitting your favorite saucepan, doesn't preclude us from also trying our hands at producing these foods from scratch. Stove-top mac & cheese? Made it, delicious. (The baked stuff? Even better. But oof, is it ever a production for someone who doesn't have the luxury of a dishwasher.) Artisanal pizza rolls? Who wants to try these out and report back? Because they look incredible, but my home is far too tiny for me to be deep frying anything. (The smells, you see.)
But homemade tomato soup? Easy. Like, obviously not as easy as opening a can and adding water, and of course you miss out on that satisfying thwap thing, but still… pretty easy stuff, and the payoff for the extra effort, well. I won't say it will put you off the can forever, but it will certainly be a thing you consider making again. And again. And maybe even one more time after that.
To begin, of course, we need tomatoes. It being April, most of us have still not yet entered into tomato season, but if you are lucky enough to be in a place where fresh, wonderful tomatoes are available, go with Goddess. Otherwise, get a 28-ounce can of tomatoes from the grocery store. (If you're working with fresh tomatoes, you'll want 1¾ pounds of them to equal what you'll get out of that can. Purée those. Well: Maybe blanch and peel them first, then purée them. OK! There you go.) If you're going the canned route, you can either go with the kind that are already puréed, or you can use the whole ones and smoosh 'em up between your hands the way Italians insist you do when making red sauce. (I'm Italian, and I do my best to follow The Rules of My People, but also that smooshing process generally results in at least a small bit of splatter, and I get so anxious in the face of splatters, and, right, this is why I mention the less splatter-y option. Though you're probably far less neurotic than am I, so.)
Other than the tomatoes, there's not a whole lot else you're gonna need for this, and most of it is the kind of stuff you're likely to have around the house: butter. Garlic. Onion. Flour. Chicken broth (or veg, if you swing that way). Sugar. Salt & pepper.
But you'll be wanting some instructions and measurements. Let's get to that.
Get out a fairly large—six-quart or so? Sure!—pot. But not just any pot! A non-reactive one. That means copper and aluminum are out, but stainless steel, enamel, or anodized aluminum are all A-OK. Tomatoes, it turns out, don't play nicely with reactive metals, hence the directive.
In that fairly large pot, melt three tablespoons of butter. To that, add one medium-yellow or white onion that you've diced up. That onion is eventually going to be pulverized, so it needn't be the finest dice you've ever executed. Also add in a crushed or minced or whatever'ed garlic clove. A big one! We're no longer making those "that's what she said" jokes, but if we were, this would be the point at which we'd crack it. Let those things—the butter, the diced-up onion, the garlic—cook over a medium-low flame for a few minutes, until they start to soften and get translucent, but not to the point where they become brown. Now sprinkle one to two tablespoons of flour over the whole shebang, and stir so that the onions and garlic are nicely coated.
At this point, you'll add all the rest of the things, so: three cups of broth, whichever kind you've chosen to work with. The 28 ounces of puréed tomatoes. Two teaspoons of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste (about a quarter-teaspoon is a good start, but from there, the sky's the limit). Are you feeling fanciful? Toss in a sprig of fresh thyme. Ain't got no thyme for that? Use a pinch of the dried stuff or forego it altogether. Want to murder me for making that unforgivably bad pun? Consider that I'm giving you the gift of homemade tomato soup, and also that I'm not really worth the jail time. (See now? I could have written 'jail thyme,' but I did not!)
Once you've got all those things in your non-reactive pot, go ahead and jack the heat up to medium-high. You'll need to stir and stir and stir while the soup comes up to a simmer to prevent the flour from sticking to the bottom of the pot, but once it's come up to a simmer, you can be mostly done with your stirring. Reduce the heat back down all the way to low, put a lid on it, and let it simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Give it a stir from time to time? Sure.
So look, that's pretty much it! Not that hard. Not as easy as opening a can and adding water, but this is homemade soup we're talking about here, people.
The only thing left is to blend the stuff up so that it has the consistency of soup and not a hearty ragu. Oh! If you were fancy and added that thyme sprig, remove it now. It's also not a terrible idea to let the soup cool for a spell before you begin the blending process. If you're using a standard blender or a food processor, work in two or three small batches; trying to blend too much at once will result in a giant mess that of course I'll help you clean up, but I'll also make you pay for ignoring my warnings by being really, really mouthy about how you ignored my warnings. So there's another warning for you! If you, like me, have a hand blender (also sometimes called a stick blender or an immersion blender, and seriously, can't we just pick a name and go with it? This thing. That's the thing I'm talking about.), you can put that right in the pot and blend away.
This is going to make a bunch of servings—the yield is eight cups of soup, so you'll get six to eight servings for your trouble, depending on how large your soup bowls are. It being April, you might want to double the recipe and freeze some extra to heat up on a rainy day. I needn't tell you what should accompany it.
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Art by Sam Woolley.