Late-Season Tomato-Vegetable Soup
One October market yielded such diminutive leeks and carrots that they led me to keep all their shapes intact. if you don't have slender leeks and carrots, just cut whatever size you do have into small pieces.
For tomatoes, I like a mixture of big, meaty Brandywines and a few low-acid yellow tomatoes. I use them 4 ways: Their juice becomes the liquid for the soup, the walls are finely diced and stewed with the other vegetables, the cores are pureed for body, and the skins are fried to a crisp and used as a garnish.
If the soup is to be a main course, serve it with bread in the bowl, toasted first, rubbed with garlic, and covered with a soft cheese, such as Teleme. If you find yourself with leftovers, puree them and you'll have a perfect base for a cream of tomato soup to serve with the last of the basil.
2 Tbsp olive oil
Warm half the oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, carrots, fennel, pepper, saffron, garlic, and parsley. Stir once, cook for 1 minute, add 1 cup water, and cover the pot. Stew over low heat.
Meanwhile, plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds to loosen their skins. Peel. them, reserving the skins, then slice them in half crosswise and squeeze the seeds and juice into a strainer set over a bowl. Force the juice through the strainer by running a spoon through the contents. Cut the walls of the tomatoes away from the cores and neatly dice them. Puree or mince the cores.
By now the vegetables should be soft. Add the tomato juice, diced tomatoes, and puree, and season with 1 teaspoon salt. If the mixture seems too thick, add water or stock to thin it to the right consistency. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat.
When you're ready to serve, reheat the soup. Season with a little pepper and add some fresh chopped herb if you wish.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a small nonstick skillet. Add several large pieces of tomato skin in a single layer and fry until crisp. Remove and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Serve a few of these golden pieces piled onto the soup as a garnish.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
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