Sunday, August 26, 2012

Zesty Tomato-Ginger Bisque

Although you'd never believe it after these 90-degree-plus days recently, there was a day this past week where it was more than appropriate to have grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner. My last culinary experiment with fancy grilled cheese and tomato soup got me excited to try more, perfectly coinciding with my new obsession with Susie Middleton's newest cookbook, The Fresh and Green Table.
And just as with her last cookbook, Fast, Fresh and Green (which I was also obsessed with), no recipe I've tried so far has been a disappointment (look forward to more posts!). Although still a basic enough tomato soup to please almost anyone, the fennel and leeks provide subtle layers of flavor to entertain the sophisticated culinary palate. The zippy ginger notes make this tomato soup feel exceptionally fresh and make it perfectly suited to the end of summer. As with so many soups, any time that leftovers spend in the fridge only serves to let the flavors mingle and transform, making any leftovers a new and delightful dining experience. A fantastic way to dress up an old favorite, this recipe, along with an ostentatious grilled cheese, is a delicious new approach to a classic meal.

Zesty Tomato-Ginger Bisque
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon tomato paste or sun-dried tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium or 4 small leeks, white and pale greens parts only, thoroughly washed and cut crosswise into thin slices (1 1/2 cups, about 5 1/2 ounces)
1 small fennel bulb, stemmed, quartered, and thinly sliced (1 1/2 cups)
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup half-and-half (or heavy cream, for extra decadence)
Freshly ground pepper
24 to 28 Rustic Croutons (see cookbook for recipe) or crusty bread, optional

1. In a small bowl, combine the orange juice, honey, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. Set aisde.

2. Empty the contents of both tomato cans into a mixing bowl. Gently break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces with your hands (effective but messy!) or a pair of scissors. Add 1 cup water to the tomatoes and set aside.

3. In a large Dutch oven or other wide saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, fennel, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and continue cooking, stirring frequently and scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, until the vegetables are all browned in spots and the bottom of the pan is browning a lot, another 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Add the coriander and stir well. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the orange juice-tomato paste mixture and the tomatoes and stir well to incorporate. Bring the soup t a boil and immediately reduce to a gently simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 17 to 18 minutes. (You will notice that the soup has reduced a bit). Remove the pan from heat and let the soup cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

5. In a blender, puree the soup in three batches, filling the jar only about halfway or just a little more and partially covering the lid with a folded dish towel (leaving a vent uncovered to let out steam) to prevent hot soup from splashing you. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three batches and then return the soup to the (rinsed) pot. Whisk in the half-and-half. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, if needed.

6. Reheat the soup very gently. Serve hot, garnished with the croutons.

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