Sunday, January 29, 2017

Simplest Tomato Soup for Cook the Books: "Stir" by Jessica Fechtor and for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Nothing comforts like a bowl of tomato soup. Today I am pairing it with a comforting read, the current selection for Cook the Books: Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor. (I'm the host for this round and you can see my announcement post here.)

About the book: Jessica Fechtor was on a treadmill in a hotel gym at a graduate student conference when an aneurysm burst in her brain. Jessica was 28, newly married, and healthy when she collapsed and nearly died. Luckily, she was quickly rushed to a hospital but between the aneurysm and a subsequent infection she lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, had to have numerous surgeries, and needed to wear a helmet to protect her head for nearly two years. The impact on her career and her life was devastating as you can imagine but with the support of her family and friends along with the healing power of the food and cooking, Jessica found her way back.

I first came across the audio of this book after reading a review of it on a favorite book blog (Beth Fish Reads) and checking it out from the library. Listening to Jessica's story and her wit and warmth in telling it made me a fan and I wanted to share it with Cook the Books. Although the subject matter is serious and Jessica's story often heart-wrenching and moving, for me there is enough humor and inspiration to lift it up, rather than bog it down in sadness. I bought the book so I could read the words this time and also see the twenty-seven recipes that are woven in through the book.

With 27 recipes, plus all of the food mentions, the challenge just became narrowing down what to make. When I first listened to the audio book I made Julia's Sesame Noodles from the included recipes and it was delicious enough that I have made it several times since. But, since soup to me is the ultimate "bring you home" and ground you dish, I decided to pick one of Jessica's soup recipes. I was intrigued by her Simplest Tomato Soup because it is different than my usual tomato with the addition of red wine vinegar, flour and baking soda. Plus, once tomato soup was in my head I found myself craving it and having just made a big-batch of Jacques Pépin's Fromage Fort (cheese spread) I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment on a windy, cool weekend.

Simplest Tomato Soup
From Stir by Jessica Fechtor
(Makes 8 Servings)

Jessica says, "When I was newly patched up but feeling broken still that fall, I made a lot of soup. One big batch on the weekends to stretch for as many lunches and dinners as I could manage. This simple tomato soup figured heavily in the rotation then. It’s smooth, bold, and improves with age. I ate it all the time, after long hours in the library and runs along the river."

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
pinch of baking soda
1 cup water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(I added 1 tsp sugar)
1 bay leaf
1 cup whole milk, warmed (but not boiled) (I used coconut milk)
good-tasting olive oil, to serve (optional)

In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, and sauté until it softens, goes translucent, and browns a little around the edges. Add 1 tablespoon of the vinegar to deglaze the pot, scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon or spatula, and turn down the heat to medium-low.

Add the flour and the tomato paste, and stir to incorporate. Add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar to deglaze once again, and scrape up any flour or tomato paste that may be sticking to the pot.

Dump in the 2 cans of tomatoes and their juices and break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. (Watch out, they squirt.) Stir in the baking soda and water, season lightly with salt and pepper, add the bay leaf, partially cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender to purée the soup. (You can also carefully purée it in batches in a stand blender. (Remember to fill the blender only one-half to three-quarters of the way full with each batch. Return the puréed soup to the pot.)

Add the warmed milk very slowly, stirring constantly, just before serving. Top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, if you’d like, and a grind or two of black pepper.

Notes/Results: I have yet to meet a homemade creamy tomato soup that I don't like and this one is no exception. It is different from my normal soups as it have a more tangy, piquant taste due to the red wine vinegar. After tasting it, I felt that it needed a bit of sugar to round out the flavors and that worked nicely for me. Overall, it was a rich-tasting and creamy soup that worked well for dunking my fromage fort-spread bread and made a delicious lunch and I am sure a grilled cheese would be equally at home here. I would make it again.

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is this Tuesday, January 31st and I will be rounding up the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for February/March  when my fellow Hawaii blogger Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with the foodie memoir, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent. Hope you join us!

We have good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some delicious dishes last week--let's have a look!

Vicki of I'd Rather Be At the Beach brought Paula Deen's Crock Pot Potato Soup. She said, "I wondered how the ingredients would work since I’ve never used cream cheese, chicken broth, or cream of chicken soup. It was easier than easy to make, and the ingredients didn’t cost much. The soup was good, but I think I’ll stick with my mom’s recipe most of the time, and use this for when I’m not feeling like peeling a bunch of potatoes."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Homemade Vegetable Soup and said, "Rainy and gloomy. Rainy days seem to be meant for soup, don't you think so? This is my throw together soup, trying to halfway decipher a French cookbook, using up bits and leftovers from the fridge. This is different ( not by a lot but it is different) from the Fall River Soup I made last week. I didn't use wine this time and there were different veggies - but any time you can use up veggies on hand, soup is the answer. Zero-Waste week."

Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen shared a pasta salad, this Italian Fiorelli Pasta with Fennel and  Green Peppers. She said, "I loved the intense flavour combination in the final dish, lots of layers of flavours, from the garlic, the parsley, the peppers, the fennel
and then piquancy from the sun dried tomatoes and black peppers and the pasta acted as a brilliant foil to hold all those flavours.

Debra of Eliot's Eats shares two salads this week, first is this Red Rice Salad (Loaded with Veggies). Debra said, "I really enjoyed this salad and it was a nice change from our warm rice bowls. Although the raisins added a different texture and a bit of sweetness, I think the next time I make this I will add dried tomatoes instead. This salad definitely gets better the longer it sets. Any grain will work for this dish as well like the Dorie called-for couscous or quinoa."

Debra's second salad is this Sesame Noodles with Broccoli that can be enjoyed hot or cold, She said, "I did swap out the sugar and added honey and threw in some broccoli for a healthier meal. ... I  made this dish to take to a work-related pot luck meal.  (This recipe makes a lot of noodles.) ... I ate the leftovers the rest of the week as a cold salad which is how I prefer this dish."

Mahalo to everyone who joined in this week! 

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!


  1. Often tomato soups can be rather acidic, but I do enjoy a creamy tomato soup, and this one sounds perfect. We'd also need some of that fromage fort-spread bread to go with. Great book selection Deb.

  2. Thanks again Deb for choosing this memoir for us to read. Soup is always a welcome meal around here.

  3. There's nothing better than a bowl of classic tomato soup!

  4. Another good soup recipe! Thank you for choosing this book. It was remarkable and I have so many great recipes from it, what an excellent memoir and good writing. Proud to have participated with you all for this round of Cook the Books 😊

  5. Tomato soup is my favorite comfort food! I loved all the recipes, but mostly I loved her lively writing and courageous attitude. BTW — I missed getting my post into this round even though I read the book, even getting so far as to make and photo the almond cake, which was yum by the way. Oh well, next time - thanks for hosting!

  6. With the weather we're having, soup is not only comfort, it's the only comfort ;) Just its color is uplifting. I love tomato soup and Fechtor's recipe is intriguing. Fromage fort is too. Thank you Deb for choosing such an interesting book.


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