Jeff has been getting an awful lot of Early Girl tomatoes in his farm bag recently. I'm convinced that this fruit must be misnamed if we're still getting pounds and pounds of them in November, since I thought tomato season ended about a month ago with the autumnal equinox. Maybe I'm totally off-base here, and the moniker doesn't refer to the ripening period and presumed gender of the tomatoes. Maybe they were first grown by amateur botanists Evelyn Early and Johann von Girl. The world may never know.
There's no mistaking these late early girls for tomatoes from the height of summer; their texture is just a little too fragile, too mealy to be enjoyed raw. As a result, I've recently discovered the immense joy of oven-roasted tomatoes, and regretted all the years of my adult life spent composing precious little raw tomato salads out of Downton Abbey. A few pinches of salt, a drizzle of oil, a grind of black pepper, maybe some herbs or some balsamic vinegar to set off the sweetness. I've had them mixed into scrambled eggs, stuffed into a squash, in the middle of a sandwich, on top of velvety parsnip soup with bacon. There's just about nothing they can't do. They're worldly tomatoes.
They found their way into a soup on Saturday night, along with some of Mariquita Farms' red peppers, always stunning in their crisp, concentrated flavor. I started making preparations for the soup without a real end goal in mind, not sure if I'd need to adjust the pureed vegetables with a cup of water to thin out the texture, or a splash of cream to deepen the flavors. It's hard to go wrong with produce and a blender, but there are a lot different directions a tomato soup can take once you start.To my surprise, a trip through my (too often neglected) food mill was all that the soup needed. I've never been one to let a lily go ungilded, so I had Jeff whip up a herb-infused cream to dollop on top.
I really dig Jeff's farm bag. Once again, it convinced me to come up with an autumnal application for a piece of summer produce that I had otherwise stopped buying months ago. At this rate, I'm looking forward to enjoying this soup again once the late-blooming tomatoes start coming in next February.
Roasted tomato and red pepper soup with herb whipped cream
10 early girl tomatoes (about 2 lb)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 sprigs thyme
4 medium (4-to-6-inch) red peppers
a small, hot pepper (like a jalapeño), seeds removed and sliced thin
3 small sweet onions (about 1 1/2 cup), sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
8-10 leaves basil
15-20 leaves oregano
Heat the oven to 400 F. Cut the tomatoes in half and place them, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Sprinkle the tomatoes with 4-5 big pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, then place the thyme sprigs on top. Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil over the herbs and tomatoes. Roast in the oven until the tomatoes start to lose their shape, perhaps browning and caramelizing in places (depending on how sweet they are), about 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, blacken the red peppers. If you have a gas stove, you can do this by placing the peppers directly on the gas burner and cooking them in the gas flame, turning them until they're blackened on all sides. If you have an electric stove, you can rub them with a little peanut oil and broil them until they're blackened on one side, then turning them and roasting the other side. While the peppers are still warm, place them in a large bowl and cover with a few kitchen towels or some plastic wrap. Let the warm peppers steam in the bowl for 10 minutes, then peel away blackened exterior. Remove the seeds (you can do this easily under running water), and tear the peppers into rough chunks.
Add the thinly-sliced onions to a large pot with 3-4 tbsp olive oil and a few pinches of salt, and cook over medium heat until the onions are golden and suffused with the oil, but not at all browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sliced hot pepper, reduce the heat to low, and cook for another 5 minutes.
To the pot containing the onion mixture, add the red pepper chunks and roasted tomatoes, along with any of their accumulated juices. Blend until mostly smooth, and then pass through a fine-mesh strainer or a food mill. If the finished soup is a little thick, whisk in a few ounces of water or olive oil. Keep the soup warm over low heat.
Add the cream to the bowl of a mixer and whip on the highest speed, just until it's taken up some air and starts to become glossy. Stack the leaves of basil and cut into thin strips, then do the same for the oregano. Mix the herbs gently into the whipped cream, along with a few grinds of black pepper.
Serve the tomato soup warm, garnished with the herbed whipped cream, along with some toast, or grilled cheese.