Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup

January  2, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The genius answer to January's doldrums.

spicy tomato soup

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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.)

barbara lynch  

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.

blending tomato soup


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
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crème fraîche, for garnish (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


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)



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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mlsparks
  • Amy Beinfest
    Amy Beinfest
  • Bonnie B
    Bonnie B
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    John Fisher
  • SusieQue2222
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


mlsparks August 19, 2013
Made this tonight for lunch tomorrow with a grilled cheese sandwich. It looked SO delicious that I couldn't resist a little bite before i popped it in the fridge. It was absolutely splendid!! This is my new go to tomato soup.
Amy B. April 7, 2013
I make this in my Vitamix. Nothing to strain!
Bonnie B. February 9, 2013
Novice question: Want to serve at a dinner many days in advance could I make this?
Kristen M. February 9, 2013
Two days sounds perfect to me, but if you need to do three I'm sure that would be fine too.
Bonnie B. February 9, 2013
Thank you!!!
John F. February 3, 2013
I think I'm going to try this recipe with a few minor modifications. Needs to be a bit more spicy to suit my taste buds. After I make my modified version, I'll post an update.
SusieQue2222 January 15, 2013
Added garlic, roasted red pepper, simmered with a park rind and swirled sherry in at the end. Also left about half the pulp in for texture. Will def make again!
SusieQue2222 January 15, 2013
*parm rind
Lula M. January 15, 2013
Unstrained this tasted like pasta sauce to me, not tomato soup. Liked it better strained, and used the pulp to make delicious mini pizzas on bread topped with mozzarella. But straining took FOREVER! Any suggestions on how to speed up this process. It was such a drag, I might never bother again.
quiltcat January 15, 2013
Hi Lula. I bet you could use a Foley food mill, which is an old fashioned tool that's a strainer with a screw and crank handle that you turn to press the pulp through the strainer.
ErinC January 4, 2013
I made this tonight with garlic/parmesan sourdough toasts, I kept the soup chunky with an immersion blender, added garlic and doubled the basil. Super delicious! Will make again!
Gloria W. January 3, 2013
I have made a version of this for some time. My recipe calls for garlic and celery also. I use an immersion blender and do not strain--I love the rustic look and mouthfeel. Sharicooks, I usually make grilled cheese sandwiches with this soup also. I use multi-grain bread and provolone cheese. Tomato soup and grilled cheese for adults!
quiltcat January 3, 2013
I also made it with an immersion blender and didn't the heartiness of the look and feel. It did have a few strings from the basil leaves, but they were a minor inconvenience. I used one can of fire-roasted tomatoes and one can of regular tomatoes...the fire-roasted ones added some more depth to the flavor.
prandial January 3, 2013
I made this last night and substituted fresh ricotta for the creme fraiche. Very clean and homey flavors. Does anyone have advice for kicking up the spice quotient? I added a bit of sriracha for heat.
Bevi January 3, 2013
You could add a dollop of pierino's romesco sauce. I made a large batch and have added it to a host of dishes - chili, spicy chicken soup, the main ingredient in a yogurt dip - I bet it would make the flavor pop.
Paula G. January 8, 2013
Add sumac.
Cookie16 January 3, 2013
Can't wait to make this! It wasn't on the menu but it will be now :]
Sharicooks January 2, 2013
Made this tonight with grilled cheese. Roasted fresh tomatoes and garlic, did not strain used an immersion blender. Wonderful for a 15 degree night in Chicago
NVChef January 2, 2013
Ah Mas Jen And my dear friends. Do you have a window.. You can grow Basil all year around. The smallest of plants will produce the necessary amount. But of course you knew that? You were just being French. :)
gloria C. January 2, 2013
Sounds like a good recipe, and much like one I make. I wonder, though, why not roasted tomatoes pureed? Much more flavorful and fresh-tasting. I also roast some red peppers to blend in. Gloria Crocker
Vivian H. January 2, 2013
Very pretty. Will give it a whirl.
Nomnomnom January 2, 2013
Looking forward to making this recipe this week. Any ideas for hacking a big strainer? I have a beatiful new food mill, but that would just incorporate the pulp into the soup I think. Thanks for all the genius genius recipes!
Bevi January 2, 2013
This sounds perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich. It's on the menu this week!
MikeK January 2, 2013
Only thing I would add to the recipe is a Parmesan Rind
Arrxx January 2, 2013
The world of Food 52 is a big place - that's the joy of the internet. Perhaps you can save this recipe for the summer and those of us who live in California or Florida can go out in our gardens, pinch some basil and make this soup on a chilly evening.
Mas J. January 2, 2013
I live in France where it is paramount to cook seasonally. While soup would definitely be appreciated in the doldrums of January, fresh BASIL will not be anywhere near the farmers markets or in the supermarkets until Summer. Surely Food52 should be following Slow Food values and offering recipes that are actually in season?
fiveandspice January 2, 2013
Arrxx is right! Those in warmer climes do have basil at this time of year. And some of us like to grow pots of herbs inside on a window ledge to keep us in fresh herbs all year long, even if it is (as it is here!) -20F at night.
willward January 2, 2013
I also live in Paris and fresh basil IS available in some of the marches. Specifically, the rue Oberkampf and Aligre markets have a couple of vendors who sell basil as well as other herbs. But you have to look for it.
Mary W. January 2, 2013
Basil is so easily grown in a greenhouse,and therefore available at the supermarket. It is one of the true pleasures we can enjoy in winter. If we want to get so uptight about seasonality, we would not be considering canned tomatoes, would we?
keihin January 2, 2013
Great recipe. Simple fresh flavors working together.

Simplify by using an immersion blender. Strain with a skimmer for a finer consistency, or omit straining altogether for something a bit more chunky and rustic. Top with a few splashes of olive oil and bring on the crusty bread.