The former is my fault; the latter, simply fodder to figure it out myself. In June I mentally rushed the seasons along, anticipating summer's sweet heirlooms with destructive enthusiasm. What I found instead, Saturday morning at the Ferry Building, was slew of firm, still mealy and wildly expensive tomatoes. I ate one a little sadly and accepted defeat, resigned to try again in three weeks.
Then, my coping mechanism: tomato soups made with canned tomatoes, a la Heidi Swanson. I swear by canned tomatoes any time of year (the fire-roasted Muir Glen ones are standbys), but I couldn't turn them into a decent soup to save my life. Two important lessons resulted. First, don't expect your food processor to do the job -- even a good one turned out separated layers of watery tomatoes and flavorless chunks. And lastly, canned tomatoes simmered with onions, garlic and stock still kind of taste like canned tomatoes.
The three weeks passed, and July's tomatoes were a revelation. I've filled produce bags to the top at Haight Street Market, where the organic, oddly shaped purple and streaked pineapple heirlooms cost $3.29 a pound. (Compare that to June's Ferry Building tomato, which rang in at $8.) After coming across David Leibovitz's recipe for slow roasted tomatoes, I spent an aimless afternoon at home roasting a batch of my own. The project started with a little curiosity and boredom, and ended with nothing short of an epiphany.
Sweet, sour, salty and intense, the roasted tomatoes were shriveled vehicles of concentrated flavor -- like a fresh kin to tomato paste. I tried to think of a creative way to eat my first batch but no serving suggestion did them justice, so I ate them alone, standing up in my kitchen. My second batch met a similar fate. The third, however, would be my road to summer's first delicious tomato soup.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
6 to 7 roasted tomatoes (see note below)
Freshly ground black pepper
Note: I followed Leibowitz's directions for roasting tomatoes almost exactly, choosing small, ripe, dark-colored varieties. I have made them with and without sliced garlic; both are delicious, though the ones without garlic are sweeter. I also like to sprinkle them with lavender sea salt from Eatwell Farms, another Ferry Building indulgence. It's a finishing salt, but you can just barely taste the lavender here, and it works well. You can make these a day ahead and refrigerate until you're ready to use them. They will give off some moisture; add the juices to the soup when you add the tomatoes.
Heat olive oil in a pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and a dash of salt and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another five minutes, until fragrant.
Add tomatoes and white wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about seven to eight minutes, until the wine has reduced somewhat and the tomatoes seem plump. Add four cups of water, along with another dash of kosher salt. I like to add the water a cup at a time, letting the ingredients soak up the liquid and reduce slightly before adding the next cup. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a blender. If your blender is small or you have multiplied the recipe, you will want to blend it in batches. Puree until smooth, then return to the pot and correct the consistency: if it's thin, increase the heat to reduce it down, and if it is thick, add a little more water and salt until the soup pours easily off of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This recipe is endlessly versatile. I like it rich with tomatoes, but you may also add cream or milk if you prefer a milder flavor. Fresh herbs such as thyme and basil will work well, both cooked into the soup and as a garnish. A drizzle of creme fraiche or plain yogurt dresses it up to serve to company.