It’s become very clear to me recently that sitting down to dinner around the dining room table matters. It matters perhaps more than anything else to my family right now. Dinners around the dining room table signify laughter and joy. Dinners around the dining room table instigate real sharing about real things that have real meaning to the people that sit at that table. Dinners around the dining room table are imperative right now in our life. We have been dealt some challenging cards this past year. We have cried and worried and prayed and wondered….but in the midst of all of this, we have dined together. We have dined at one beautiful long table in the house on Friar Lane, always with as many chairs as we need. There is a rythym to our dining. We gather in the kitchen, nibble on some almonds or olives and prepare the meal, divide the duties of preparing the food, setting the table and getting the beverages. Finally, the food is ready and all have sat down with a plate full of food and a heart full of gratitude. We are grateful to slow down for the next hour. This begins my favorite part….the eating, the laughing, the genuine connecting with one another. There is nothing so great as what ensues as a result of sharing a meal with those whom you cherish most of all. Memories are made in these small moments to the extent which we may not realize until years have passed.
With the abundance of tomatoes and basil that I’ve had on hand this year, I’ve been working on creating a stellar tomato basil soup. I made a pot of this soup for an extended family gathering recently and it got all thumbs up! It was a simple meal of soup and salad but the joy that it brought to the table was what pleased me the most. Never take for granted the power of sharing a home cooked meal with the ones you love. I made the soup again just the other day and tweeked it a bit and I’ve finally hit the exact flavor profile that I was in search of — tangy, sweet, savory and a touch creamy. Let the salty, crunchy croutons rest on the bottom or float on the top…either way you’ll love it. (And my apologies that I was out of croutons for my photo shoot). Enjoy!
Tomato Basil Soup (Serves 6)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 of one onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3 cups chopped fresh ripe tomatoes (about 3 large) OR 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice (whether the tomatoes are chopped, diced or crushed doesn’t matter much because they will be blended)
2 14 oz. cans fired roasted tomatoes with juice
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz water (might not need the water if you use the canned tomatoes instead of fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
20 fresh basil leaves, torn (plus more for garnish)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened (1/3 less fat will work fine, but do not use non-fat) OR 4 oz. half and half or heavy cream
Toppings: parmesan cheese, croutons or crostini (I like New York’s The Original Texas Toast Cheese and Garlic Croutons), fresh basil, fresh ground pepper
In large soup pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add the fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and water (omit water if you want it to be thicker). Add dried oregano, dried basil, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer for 5 minutes. Add torn basil leaves and 4 oz cream cheese and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Blend with immersion blender on low speed until blended to your liking (the immesion blender will help incorporate the cream cheese if it is not already melted). I like to blend the soup just slightly to achieve a “crushed tomatoes” consistency. Serve immediately topped with shredded parmesan cheese, chopped fresh basil and savory croutons, crostini or a slice of warm bread.