When tomato season finally arrives, I find the colorful displays of ripe tomatoes at the farmers’ market impossible to resist. I inevitably come home with baskets full of tomatoes of every hue. My favorite solution to the problem of too many tomatoes is to make tomato soup. Any tomatoes that are so ripe they’re about to burst or that are less than salad-perfect go straight into the soup pot.
Though actually a New World fruit, tomatoes are now considered one of the most Mediterranean of vegetables. For the soups I’m making here, I’ve found inspiration from all over that region. The vivid yellow gazpacho, while not absolutely authentic, draws on the traditional chilled, bread-thickened soups of Spain. A spicy tomato broth with couscous and chicken borrows from the flavors of North African cuisine. Redolent with turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon, this soup gets its fire from the Moroccan chile paste known as harissa.
One of my favorite tomato soups is made only with tomatoes, onions, a bit of stock, and cream, infused with fresh basil and fortified with a dash of balsamic vinegar. British food writer Jane Grigson calls basil and tomatoes “soul mates,” and I have to agree. This is an ideal soup for a rainy August afternoon or the first cool September evening.
The best soup tomatoes are fat and ready to burst
Always pick the brightest, ripest tomatoes for soup. They’ll have the most flavor. A good tomato is heavy for its size and has smooth, unblemished skin.
The best place to find a good tomato is in your own garden.
A farmers’ market or a roadside stand is a good second choice. Ask and the farmer will likely cut a slice of tomato for you to sample. Little or no core and a moderate amount of seeds in the jelly-like pulp are signs that you’ve found a flavorful tomato. You’ll rarely find juicy, ripe tomatoes at your supermarket—they’d never survive the trip from the farm. Instead, most large chain stores buy green tomatoes that are gas-ripened. They’re tasteless and have a mealy, unpleasant texture.
At home, store tomatoes at room temperature.
Never refrigerate tomatoes—cold temperatures destroy their flavor. If the tomatoes are at the peak of ripeness, use them within a day or two. Less than ripe ones will change from orange to red, and their sugar and acid content will continue to increase. They should be at their prime within a week or less.