Homemade Tomato Soup with Puff Pastry

Tomato Soup with Puff Pastry
When we were kids, my mother cooked everything from scratch, and while this sounds quite lovely in today's world, back then, my brother and I spent a lot of time wishing that she  could get a little more enthusiastic about canned goods and frozen foods. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but we were thrilled whenever we had to have a babysitter because it meant that we could eat frozen TV dinners.

There was one other exception, though, when it came to cooking from scratch. My mother never bothered to make homemade tomato soup, instead, she bought the famous red and white can--Campbell's™--but she always used milk in place of the water, making the most delicious and creamy tomato soup. She'd serve it with crusty grilled cheese sandwiches so hot they oozed cheese and often, if you were not careful, would burn the roof of your mouth. This, perhaps, was our favorite winter lunch.

For all my culinary wiles, I never thought about tackling homemade tomato soup until after I first moved to San Francisco. It was a gloriously cold and rainy spring day--the headlands were verdant, contrasted against the gray of the sky and the whole of the world seemed to smell of eucalyptus and earth. Over coffee, Mr. B suggested that we play hooky and head up the 101 to Sonoma and, then, Napa. He lured me with images of grazing sheep, wild fennel and a landscape of stark oaks just beginning to leaf. Of course, he also promised to take me to lunch at a wonderful little French bistro, at which, I had never had the pleasure of dining.

Tucked away in the little town of Yountville, was a quaint and extraordinary restaurant, Bistro Jeanty, where Mr. B ordered us each a bowl of tomato soup. I don't know what I was expecting, but what I received was more than I had ever dreamt--buttery, flakey puff pastry that when slit with the tip of a butter knife, exerted a rush of steam to reveal a creamy and rich tomato soup, the likes that I had never before experienced. I was hooked, and since playing a daily game of hooky and driving to Napa seemed a bit extreme, I went to work to master a version that I could enjoy regularly--rain or shine.

Best Ever Tomato Soup
(based on the Bistro Jeanty recipe)

Tomato Puree (If you were smart enough to process your own homegrown tomatoes and freeze at the height of the season--perfect; if not use two large cans of best quality pureed tomatoes)
1 medium sweet onion finely minced (these should be as super finely diced as possible to keep the final texture of the soup as creamy as possible)
4 T. Butter
1/4 cup good quality tomato paste
1 cup good quality heavy cream
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
Two generous pinches of dried thyme
Two dried Bay leaves
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1 sheet of thawed puff pastry (or homemade if you are not starving and are inclined to make your own)
1 egg beaten
fresh thyme sprigs

1. Put butter into a small sauce pan (I use a 4.5 quart Calphalon) over medium heat. Once butter is melted, toss in onions and sautee until soft, but not browned.
2. Toss in dried thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper and tomato paste.
3. Stir until tomato paste melts and then, pour in tomato puree. Stir to combine and allow it to heat until it begins to bubble and then pour in heavy cream.
4. Cook stirring often until soup is thickened; if necessary, thin with a bit of milk.
5. Taste and adjust seasonings; keep warm.
6. Heat the oven to the recommended temperature for the pastry; I set my oven to 400 degrees.
7. Roll out thawed puff pastry just to release the dough and then cut squares to fit over your soup bowls. The best way to do this is to use an empty soup bowl as a guide, set it top-side down on the sheet of puff  pastry and cut a square out that will fit the bowl and allow for overhang on the sides.
8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
9. Carefully ladle the warm soup into the soup bowls, leaving about 3/4 an inch between the top of the soup and the rim of the bowl.
10. Gently place a square of the precut pastry over the bowl and press down to seal the edges. You should pull the pastry taut over the top of the bowl (think of the skin on a drum) and make sure that the pastry is not touching the soup. Double check that your edges are tightly sealed and then gently brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
11. Carefully slide the baking pan into the oven; rotate the sheet once during baking to ensure even golden brown texture.
12. Bake until pastry is puffed and golden.

You WILL feel guilty while consuming this meal. You won't be able to easily get past all the butter, heavy cream and puff pastry without a good bottle of wine and some music, preferably French bistro. I find it also helps if your spouse, or partner, can speak a few French phrases (who cares what) during the meal.



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