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Today: The genius answer to January's doldrums.
In the midst of winter, we don't expect loud colors in our diet, or food that makes our blood run hot -- we're supposed to wrap ourselves in butternut squash and wait till the sun comes out again.
We also tend to hunker down for long stretches in the kitchen -- to cook meats till they fall apart, and crockpot things -- and that's fine, for much of the barren season. Let's work those braisers and roasting pans while we can.
But it doesn't have to be like that, not every night. Thanks to Chef Barbara Lynch and genius tipster China Millman, I've got a spicy tomato soup that you can make on a whim and eat nearly as soon, that will set your January on fire. (It's also, at its core, 5 vegan ingredients you probably already have.)
It starts a bit like the old just-add-water canned tomato soup but quickly veers off, and tastes like living, breathing fruit, instead of tomato ghosts in corn syrup.
Here's how you make it: Open 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes. Slice an onion, and get it sizzling with red pepper flakes. Pour in your tomatoes and some water, and warm up the whole vat.
Lynch says to simmer it 30 minutes, but in a rush I've blazed right through that step. Stir in fresh basil, blend, and strain.
In almost no time at all, you come out with a phenomenally full-flavored soup, racy and pure -- a drinkable broth with a big personality.
Lynch says that the rustic pulp that's left behind has no place in this soup -- and she's right -- but recommends saving it for crostini or baked eggplant. Millman also likes it in pasta, and our resourceful intern Marian Bull carted some home from our test kitchen and used it to spice up her eggs the next morning.
Whatever you do with it, add this soup to your winter lineup and the doldrums won't know where to find you.
Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup
Recipe adapted very slightly from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Crème fraîche, for garnish (optional)
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom (except Barbara Lynch from The Portland Press Herald)