I remember a bowl of tomato soup I had once, in a little square called San Barnaba off the beaten path in Venice. I was cold, tired, and my life had just shattered. I suppose there is no better place to be heartbroken than in Venice. Every meal I had there, every bowlful of goodness, restored me just a little bit. The soup I had that day was served with a hunk of toasted crusty bread in the middle, soaking in the flavorful tomatoes and covered in a blanket of shaved parmesan cheese. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl, the last morsels of bread had softened and thickened the soup like a rustic tomato-bread soup. Here I’ve tried to re-create that San Barnaba soup. I’ve used many tomato soup recipes that call for sugar, and I usually either omit it or feel guilty for adding it and spoiling the simplicity of the tomatoes. I found a substitute that even brightens the color and flavor of the soup and is 100 % guilt-free: beet juice. Of course, feel free to use the sweetener of your choice.
Secret Ingredient Tomato Soup
(Adapted from Bon Appetit’s Creamy Tomato Soup)
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- 10 sprigs thyme, tied together
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes
- 1 cup beet juice
- ¼ cup (or more) heavy cream
- (optional) a dollop of crème fraîche
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add thyme, onion, and garlic. Cook until onion is completely soft and translucent, 10–12 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; add tomato paste. Continue cooking, stirring often, until paste has begun to caramelize in spots, 5–6 minutes.
Add tomatoes with juices, 6 cups water and 1 cup beet juice to pot. Increase heat to high; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer until flavors meld and soup reduces to about 2 quarts (8 cups), 45–55 minutes. Remove soup from heat; let cool slightly. Discard thyme sprigs. Working in small batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. DO AHEAD: Soup can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool slightly, cover, and chill. Rewarm before continuing.
Stir in ¼ cup cream. Simmer soup until flavors meld, 10–15 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and remaining 1 tsp. sugar. Add more cream and/or crème fraîche if desired.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread and shaved parmesan cheese, or a grilled cheese sandwich. For a fancy one, try a Cheddar, Chive & Ciabatta Panino.