Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tomato Soup Rematch!

Today I'm determined to tweak the recipe for Panera's Creamy Tomato Soup. I've tried it before, as given on their website, and found it was woefully adapted for a home kitchen. Way too milky, not nearly enough tang. And I had used fresh ripe tomatoes, too, instead the canned I'm sure they use. Of course, I tinkered with it till it was edible, and even good; my next door neighbor loved it. But too much tinkering was needed to make it an easy-to-remember tweak. I like the method, though, as it's different from most of the tomato soups I've seen. More old-fashioned, I would say. Which may be why it's so good-- but at $5 a bowl, I can't afford to get it from Panera as often as I'd like to eat it. A redux is clearly in order.

This time, I'll be using crushed, canned tomatoes, too, and lots of 'em. The basic recipe is simple-- onions cooked till soft, flour added to thicken, whole milk poured over that, and then the tomatoes added last. No other seasonings but salt, sugar and bay leaf. I'm thinking a tiny bit of dill will aid the tanginess that is so necessary to the taste of this soup as served at the restaurant. Most people go nuts for the Asiago croutons and think they're indispensable; but I'm thinking, quickly made plain croutons and a sprinkle of grated Asiago will be just as good if not better.

This didn't work.

My starting point, using lots more onion, was a good idea, as was the 1/4 tsp dried dill-- the bad ideas were: using half-n-half as a sub for the whole milk, even at a quarter the original amount, and also my use of crushed tomatoes. I'd hoped to avoid the need to strain, but the second I added them, I knew it all looked wrong and would taste wrong too. Here's Panera's recipe, as given to me off their website:

Creamy Tomato Soup with Asiago Croutons

5 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 Tbs flour
4 cups milk
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups tomatoes, chopped (fresh or canned)
1 Loaf of Asiago Bread(sliced Thick)

1. Melt the Butter in a soup pot.

2. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onion is softened but not browned.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the butter mixture and continue to stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Slowly add the milk, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened.

5. Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes.

6. Add the tomatoes to the milk, and bring just to a simmer.

7. Remove from the heat and put through a strainer.

8. Taste and correct seasonings.

9. Reheat before serving. Top with Asiago Croutons- The More the Better!

10. Make croutons for the top of the soup by cubing Panera Bread Asiago Loaf into 3/4-inch thick slices.

11. Butter both sides of those slices, then cut the slices into bite-size cubes.

12. Bake the bread in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Servings: 6

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 228 calories, 116 calories from fat, 13.1g total fat, 38.5mg cholesterol, 1036.5mg sodium, 535.7mg potassium, 21.9g carbohydrates, 1.6g fiber, 15.5g sugar, 7.3g protein.

Source: From the Panera Bread Kitchen

That's a lot of milk for the amount of tomatoes, and it didn't work out well last time I made it. I subbed half-n-half this trial, but only 1 cup; and mainly subbed because I didn't have milk in the house. We drink soy or almond milk, and occasionally have whole cow's milk around for visiting babies, but not today. So that was misstep number 1-- even at 1/4 the specified amount, still too creamy. I had used the same amount of tomato, changing the ratio that way. I'd still do that, but next tweak, I will likely use fresh tomatoes, and whole milk or unsweetened rice milk if I can find it. To get some extra tang here, I resorted to adding in a half cup Chardonnay, after the soup had been cooked well enough to integrate the other ingredients and avoid a curdling situation.

I can't believe this soup is beating me. But I will get it right...
It just proves that really good food takes some work and thought to achieve. And right this moment, it tastes okay. But that is not good enough for me. Still, there's a Le Creuset pot full, so bring on the shredded Asiago. And a glass of Patch Block Chardonnay.
Peace, Mari

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