I think one of my greatest laments in life is that I married a man who is semi-allergic to tomatoes. Okay, that’s hyperbole – I don’t really have any laments in life. But I do sort of pity Rob, who does not get the true joy that is an awesome tomato soup. Although, I suppose, he does not get the true frustration that is awful tomato soup either, so there’s a silver lining to everything.
Anyway, good tomato soup is a distinct pleasure, especially when the weather is cold and rainy, as it’s getting right about now. Plus, tomato soup is versatile: Pair it with grilled cheese, dress it up with beans and pasta, throw in a few handfuls of veggies, top it with sour cream and cheese –it’s hard to go wrong.
And about once a year (usually right around this time, once the leaves are gone) I get this intense craving for tomato soup. So I open a can, add some milk and adore it for a day. Then the next day, the leftovers make me sort of squinch up my nose and I opt for something else, and the soup ends up getting fuzzy in the back of the fridge. It’s a yearly ritual.
Well, this year I decided to try an experiment with homemade tomato soup. I know I don’t eat leftover canned soup – will I eat leftover homemade soup? Can it really be that much better? So this week, our topic is:
Challenge: Tomato soup
The classic can o’ tomato soup contains tomato puree (water + tomato paste), water, high fructose corn syrup, wheat flour, salt, ascorbic acid and citric acid.
My homemade soup follows a recipe from a Cuisine at Home: Soups, Stews and Chilies book:
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 28 oz. cans of tomatoes (they recommend whole, I had crushed…either works)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. dried basil
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Start by chopping your garlic and onions. Throw the onions in a big pot, along with some olive oil, to sautee until soft, for 5-ish minutes. Then toss in your chopped garlic and the red pepper flakes, and let them get all toasty for a minute or two.
Deglaze the pot with white wine. Stir to get all the brown bits off the pot’s bottom, then cook until the wine is mostly evaporated. I used a wine blend that we’d had hanging in the fridge for a few days. Dunno if it was dry or not, but it was tasty.
Once the wine is mostly gone, add your tomatoes (with the liquid – just dump it all straight into the pot) and the chicken broth and the basil. Turn up the heat until the contents are boiling, then turn it down and let it simmer for 10-20+ minutes (10 if you’re hungry now, 20+ if you’re waiting for company to arrive). Then puree up your soup with a hand-held blender or in your regular glass-bowl blender.
Last but not least, add your sugar and balsamic. I swear, the balsamic vinegar is key to this recipe – it totally plays off the sugar and brings out the tomato-y flavor. Season with salt and pepper. Then plate up, and enjoy!
(Note: The original recipe called for adding a bag of fresh spinach at the very end, which I’d recommend. It makes the spinach all wilty and delicious. But I skipped that step because you cannot buy canned tomato-and-spinach soup).
Time and Cost Comparison
The canned soup was easy to find, although I went with generic because the Campbell’s was out. I tell you, it’s tomato soup weather. A can cost $0.95, and if you mix it with water, that’s all it’ll cost. Add an extra $0.50-ish if you mix it with a can of milk. You end up with about 3 cups of soup, making it about $0.50 per cup (assuming you use milk).
The homemade soup took about an hour to make, from chopping the onions and garlic to adding the balsamic. The total cost was $8.04 for the ingredients in this soup, and it made a huge pot (8 cups). That means the total came out to about $1 per bowl. (Take that, fancy restaurant soup for $3!)
The canned and homemade have several things in common: a tomato base (puree vs. chopped tomatoes) and a sweetener (high-fructose corn syrup vs. sugar), a volumizing liquid (water and milk vs. broth) and salt.
The canned soup has wheat flour and the ascorbic acid and citric acid – both basically vitamin C, used as preservatives and perhaps as flavor-ers.
The homemade soup has onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, wine, basil and vinegar as flavor-ers.
The canned tomato soup rocks 80 calories per cup, 0 grams fat, 710 grams sodium, 18 grams carbs and 2 grams protein.
The homemade tomato soup offers 99 calories per cup, 3 grams fat, 346 grams sodium, 14 grams carbs and 3 grams protein.
The canned soup tastes like… generic tomato-y product. It’s tomato-y and sweet and kind of classic, kind of comforting. It tastes like childhood. Rob compared it to the sauce found in Chef Boyardee Ravioli – but it’s also pretty flat and one-note. The texture is much smoother, and much thinner than the homemade, which may be a plus.
The homemade soup tastes rich and layered – tomato-y and garlicky and a little bit spicy and tangy, but also with a hint of sweet. It’s like a really good marinara, but thinner. I used crushed tomatoes, and I didn’t bother to blend it, so this version is a little chunky, which further enhances the marinara feel. But that could be easily resolved by actually following the recipe.
3. The soup is easy to throw together, but it’s not effortless. You have to stay close and keep an eye on it. That said, you really don’t need any particular talent or skill beyond can opening and onion chopping to make it work.
DIY or Buy?
Oh, for Pete’s sake, make yourself some dang soup. Homemade is SO MUCH BETTER than the canned stuff and it only takes an hour. Yes, it makes a lot. Invite friends over to help you eat it; or make it on Sunday and have 8 healthy lunches ready to go for the week; or freeze the leftovers in individual portions and have delish soup whenever you get the craving. Seriously, you won’t regret it.