For years, I turned my nose up at tomato soup. I can’t even tell you why I didn’t like it growing up; I just didn’t. All I knew was Campbell’s canned soup which did not look appealing or tasty to me. At some point in my late high school or early college years, I went to La Madeleine and bravely tried their tomato basil soup. The skies opened, and my taste buds rejoiced at the deliciousness I was consuming. Seriously. It was so good. My best effort at explaining why this soup was so good usually went like this: “I don’t know why it’s so good. Maybe because it’s a thicker soup than Campbell’s?” So eloquent of me, I know. Many years later as I was discovering my culinary inclinations, I began to wonder if I could replicate this soup. Thanks to Google, I found a knock-off copy recipe that swore to be just like that which La Madeleine serves. Sadly, the nutritional content is listed next to the recipe which made it impossible to ignore the facts in front of me. The reason this soup is so good is because 82% of the calories in the recipe come from fat. Yes, dear friends, 82%. I’ll just give you a minute to wrap your brain around that.
The first time I made the soup, I followed the recipe mostly exactly the same. I did misread the recipe from the very beginning and immediately cut the butter from a FULL STICK to a half stick. Beyond that, I did what the recipe asked. Holy tomato soup deliciousness, Batman. It was SO.GOOD. Although it was a bold claim to be just like the soup from the restaurant, it was not an inaccurate claim. I ate it that way for many years. But then I started to make more healthful food choices and didn’t feel good about there being so much fat in my soup. Thus began my slow journey to create a delicious soup that wasn’t a bajillion fat calories. It’s hard to figure out how much butter and cream you can reduce or replace and still keep your soup tasty. I tend to enjoy a thicker soup, as a general rule, but thin soups are a great vehicle for using your homemade croutons. With less cream and butter, the soup thins out a bit, but the taste is still delicious to me. I hope you enjoy it too!
Tomato Basil Soup
3 cans diced tomatoes (I use 14/5 oz cans which is roughly 10 cups)
1 can tomato juice (My can was 11.5 oz which is approximately 1.5 cups)
4 cups chicken broth/stock
basil leaves – I used a lot! A lot = about 60 of various sizes2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup and 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp of lemon juice
pinch of salt
1. Combine tomatoes, tomato juice, and chicken stock in a stockpot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Add the basil leaves and blend.
A. If you have an immersion blender, bust that baby out, and put it to work on those basil leaves and tomato chunks right there in the pot.
B. If you use a regular blender, you’ll need to work in small batches (1 or 2 cups, max, per batch). If possible, remove the center knob from the lid of your blender so the steam can escape without blowing the top off. Work slowly and carefully. This step does add more time and dirty dishes as you’ll need to move the unblended soup to a large bowl so that you can put the just-blended-soup back into the pot. Be careful in transferring that much red liquid. Might I suggest wearing an apron? When all the soup is blended and back in the pot, you are ready to move to step 3.
3. Add butter, and stir to melt and combine.
4. Slowly drizzle in cream, and stir to combine. If you are using real heavy cream, it should NOT curdle when you put it into the soup. If it curdles, something’s wrong with it.
5. Add sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes so flavors can combine.
If you plan to make this soup a staple, I highly recommend growing your own basil as basil in the grocery store can be pricey. You don’t have to use 60 if you are intimidated by that. I have a prolific plant, and I love basil. I also STRONGLY recommend investing in an immersion blender. It really will enhance your soup-making experience. I’ve also used it in salsa-making with great success. It’s a pretty great tool.
I experimented with different kinds of dairy products in my efforts to reduce the fat content, with varying results. Half and half curdled lickety-split. Some research claimed that if I slowly heated the half and half prior to adding it to the soup, it wouldn’t curdle when I put it in. I wasn’t confident enough to go down that road again, though. Evaporated milk did okay, but it impacted the taste a bit. It wasn’t bad, just not what I was looking for. Less butter seemed to be an okay decision. Then it occurred to me that I could theoretically increase the rest of the main ingredients and use a smaller amount of heavy cream. If my math is correct, that should significantly reduce the fat content. I learned that heavy cream is the most stable dairy product out there, so I decided to keep the original ingredient, just reduce the impact it has, in terms of quantity. I’m certain I’m not done playing around with the recipe, but I felt good enough about it to share with you. If you prefer a thicker soup or don’t have croutons, I think you could use less liquid for a thicker consistency.
As best I can tell, heavy cream and whipping cream are the same thing, give or take a fat gram or two. At my grocery store (HEB), there is an orange container that has one or two fewer grams of fat than the purple container. That is the only difference I can tell. I’ve made this soup with both the 5 fat grams/serving cream and the 4 fat grams/serving cream. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to tell a difference. With what I know now, the more fat it has, the more stable it is. I’m just not sure I understand the impact of having one additional gram of fat per serving. If you know the impact, please do let me know. Check out the Food Education page for a link to one of the more informative pages I looked at in doing my research.
Cooking for One Tip
This recipe makes ten servings!! That’s so freaking much soup for one person! This is actually very good news for the single gal. The whole recipe takes less than an hour to prepare with most of the time being inactive cooking time so it’s pretty easy to make. Eat a bowl for dinner, and then put up NINE bowls in your fridge/freezer for consumption at a later date. No sense in trying to halve or quarter a recipe to make only that you’ll eat that night for dinner when you can make nine more meals in the same amount of time. I take a bowl to work for lunch or pull a bowl out for an assist with dinner. If you’ll recall my tip about using water to help defrost your food, I use the same concept for the soup. If I’m taking soup to lunch and forget to take the soup out before I go to bed, I’ll put it in the sink with a couple of inches of cold water which will hasten the thawing process before I take it to work. It’s a great go-to, to have in the freezer. Alternatively, it’s an easy soup to make if several friends are coming over for dinner. I’ve gone that route several times, too.
I’ll keep you all posted as the soup continues to develop. In the meantime, happy eating!