Thursday, September 12, 2013

Corn and Roasted Tomato Soup: Late Summer Love

Last fall, I was asked to serve as a judge for Lehigh Valley Harvest, the lovely food festival brought to you by Buy Fresh Buy Local (FYI: the next one is October 27). When I was there, I tasted this amazing corn and tomato soup from Cafe Santosha. It was probably one of my favorite things I ate, and that's saying a lot. I then spied the recipe on the Morning Call site, and have talked with Cafe Santosha owner Sarah Collins about the recipe. I'm posting this adaptation with her permission. Originally written in much larger quantities, I've scaled this one back, and it still makes a generous amount. That's a good thing, because soup freezes well. I am imagining a cold, winter day when I will pull this out of the deep freeze. For a few moments, it will taste like sunny veggie-surplus summer, instead of cold, root-veggie winter.

A few words, before we start. It's great to have a variety of tomatoes. I used a mixed quart of heirlooms from Pheasant Hill Farms, a few baseball-sized heirloom Italian tomatoes from Scholl Orchards, a couple of big orange ones from Salvaterra's Gardens, and even a few from my own garden. As written by Sarah, the recipe calls for barley, but she offers suggestions for other grains. I used standard green lentils (red would be cool;  they'd cook faster than green ones and blend in), because I wanted some protein and something unobtrusive. Quinoa would work, too, and I suspect orzo, farro, and other cool grains would suffice.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for tomatoes
1 medium onion or one large bunch scallions
2-3 lbs. of fresh tomatoes, cut into quarter or large chunks, enough to fill two quarter sheet pans.
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (preferably homemade)
3/4 tsp. smoked (typically Spanish) paprika
3/4 tsp. sweet (typically Hungarian) paprika
2-3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable broth (preferrably homemade)
1-2 cups water
6 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob with a chef's knife (about 6 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
3/4 cups lentils

Garnish (optional but recommended)
Basil, cut into thin strips for garnish
Hot sauce or pepper relish
Hot or sweet peppers (I used Jimmy Nardellos), chopped finely
Scallion greens sliced thinly

1. Preheat oven to 450, Chop the tomatoes and scatter them on two quarter sheets (with rimmed sides; you'll want something to catch those juices). Drizzle it with olive oil and salt and pepper it generously. Toss the tomatoes together until they are evenly coated with the oil, and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes until they start to caramelize. Remove from the oven and set aside.
2. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in an 8-quart stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until it's translucent and begins to caramelize. Add salt, pepper and paprika. Saute for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of it to release any flavorful burny bits.
3.  Add the roasted tomatoes, including their juices, broth, lentils and tomato sauce. You may need to add 1 cup of water, depending on how much liquid the tomatoes gave off. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. If the soup looks too thick you may add another cup of water, keeping in mind the lentils will absorb water as they cook.
4. Add corn and cream, and bring it back to a simmer for a minute or two. You want the corn to give a little; don't let it get mushy. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add basil, peppers and scallions for garnish, if using.

A few other bits of information. Like almost all soups, this one's great if you make it a day ahead and the flavors sit. If this is your plan, follow the recipe up until you add the garnishes. Let it come to room temperature before you put a lid on the pot and stick the whole business in the fridge.

This soup just begs to be eaten with thick crusty bread that you can dip into it. It's also possible to make this vegan and use coconut milk. If that's the case, because coconut milk is sweeter than cream, I'd take this soup in a more Southeast Asian direction, swapping out cilantro for basil and using cumin and coriander (or maybe even garam masala) for the paprika, but that's entirely your call.

One other thing: I wouldn't muck this up with cheese or anything like that on top. You really want to taste all those fresh summer flavors. But again, that's your call.

This easily fed four of us, with about 8 cups (two plastic quart containers) left over for the winter, which will give us two more meals. In the dead of winter. When tomatoes are pink. And fresh corn is a memory. You get the idea. Can't wait!