Lament to Summer Tomatoes: A Savory, Silky Tomato Soup & Air Fryer Croutons

“Savory Tomato Soup” is a soup which I made this past summer using canned tomatoes just because I just couldn’t find juicy, fresh ones. I’m making it again this winter — what is better than hot soup on a cold winter night. My summer garden crop of tomatoes flopped; the price of tomatoes in grocery stores was extravagant. I apparently missed the market for those delicious Creole tomatoes which I love so much. To spite the situation, I decided to make tomato soup using canned tomatoes rather than fresh ones. But move over, fresh tomatoes. This soup turned out to be quite delicious and can be made any time of the year, even when tomatoes are not in season. Here’s what I did.

“Secret Ingredient’ in Savory Tomato Soup

The key to this soup is the type of canned tomatoes used in the recipe. I stumbled upon Hunt’s® San Marzano Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes while grocery shopping at Albertsons. These plum tomatoes are sweet with a thick tomato sauce — not a thin, watery juice. You really get whole, peeled tomatoes plus tomato sauce. They were perfect in this recipe.

The balance of flavors — tomatoes, onion, savory herbs and chicken broth — in my soup was just right. And put my infrequently used Chef Air Fryer to work, making homemade croutons. Hey, I even garnished the soup with fresh chives from my garden.

Hunt’s tomatoes are similar to the Cento brand of Chef’s Cut Tomatoes which I have featured in several past blogs, but it looks like these are no longer available on Albertson’s shelves in the store where frequently I shop. Either brand will work; just don’t substitute “plain” whole peeled tomatoes.

San Marzano-Style Tomatoes

San Marzano is a region in Italy where these speciality plum tomatoes are grown. This region is near Naples, Italy, with rich volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. The term, “San Marzano,” also refers to a specific variety of tomato. This plum tomato is longer and thinner than other plum tomatoes and has less seeds. It has a firm pulp; and is sweeter and less acidic than other tomatoes.

The Hunts brand, a division of Conagra Brands, Inc., introduced their canned San Marzano tomatoes to the market in late 2019. These tomatoes are grown in California, not Italy. But they are the same variety of San Marzano tomatoes. The pear-shaped plum tomatoes are vine-ripened and then steam-peeled. The tomatoes are canned in a thick tomato sauce which makes them ideal for pasta sauces, stews and soups.

Recipe

This recipe combines the flavors of slowly sautéed white onions, garlic, tomatoes, chicken broth and savory herbs along with a little butter and olive oil. These ingredients simmer slowly on the stove and the flavors meld together making a delicious soup. Then puree to get a smooth, silky soup.

Keys to making the recipe

One of the keys to making the soup is to slowly cook a large sweet, white onion on low heat until it is translucent and the raw flavor is disseminated. The onion should not turn brown or caramelize. It can take 10 or more minutes to cook the onion to this point. I partially covered the pot with the lid and stirred it from time to time. Then I added the chopped garlic and cooked an additional minute or two.

Next, flour is blended into the onions, and cooked for several minutes to eliminate the raw flavor of the flour. Again, cook slowly and stir so that the flour does not brown or lump.

The seasonings in this soup are garlic, oregano, just a pinch of celery seed and a little sugar and black pepper. I didn’t add extra salt as the chicken broth, even though sodium-reduced, still contains plenty of salt. The celery seed adds a fresh perk to the soup — but a tiny bit goes a long way. If desired, thyme or basil can be substituted for oregano. And a bit of sugar is still needed to cut down the acidity of the tomatoes.

Add the seasonings to the soup along with the tomatoes with juice and chicken broth. Cover with a lid and turn the burner to low. Simmer for about 45 minutes to blend the flavors. Then remove from stove and let the soup cool until it can be transferred safely to a food processor. The soup is hot, hot! Blend in a food processor in small batches until the soup is silky and smooth. That it is! Soup is done. Serve warm or reheat on stove, if desired. (I like this soup when served cold, too.)

Garnish the soup with croutons and chives, if you like. Hum, a grilled cheese sandwich would be a great meal compliment.

Air Fryer Croutons

I made a small batch of croutons in my air fryer to go along with my soup. Croutons, in my opinion, are one of those “nice to have but not necessary” grocery store items and I never have croutons when I need them. I love croutons and discovered that it is so simple to make a small batch in the air fryer. And this is a good use for the air fryer — you don’t heat up your large oven and the entire kitchen. My air fryer is tiny, I can only cook small batches of recipes — so I used only two slices of bread. (You could probably squeeze in more bread, if you have a larger air fryer.)

I used stale, firm-textured stale sandwich bread and very lightly buttered the bread (I did not use all the butter in the photo). Then I cut the bread into cubes and added to the air fryer basket. I cooked the croutons at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. For my air fryer, it is not necessary to pre-heat the little appliance — it quickly heats up. Perfect! Just enough for several servings of soup. It is very easy to make additional batches.

If French bread is available — this bread will make excellent croutons. Can you use olive oil rather than butter in this crouton recipe? Yes, of course. However, the taste of olive oil was too strong for my palate and I preferred croutons made with butter or margarine. All kinds kinds of spices — garlic powder, onion powder, Italian herbs, sea salt — as well Parmesan cheese — can be sprinkled on the bread prior to “frying.” The sky is the limit here. Just remember to evenly distribute these seasonings over the bread cubes — to avoid inadvertently ending up with a large “pop” of garlic or other flavor. I am pleased that my little air fryer experiment worked for making croutons. So simple, and I never have to worry about running out of croutons again.

Enjoy this “Savory, Silky Tomato Soup.” So simple to make using canned tomatoes; it has great flavor and you can make this soup any time of the year. I would never, never trade a juicy, ripe tomato for a canned one; there is no comparison. However, having missed the best, ripe tomatoes this summer — I’ll go with the canned ones for this soup. It turned out to be very soothing and tasty! Loving the soup on these cold winter days and nights.

Savory, Silky Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp oil, such as Canola oil (more if needed)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large sweet, white onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic (from jar)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans sodium-reduced chicken broth
  • 1 (28 oz) can Hunt’s® San Marzano Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes with juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • chives, chopped, garnish, if desired
  • Croutons

Method and Steps:

  1. Heat oil and butter over low heat in a large, heavy pot until butter is melted.
  2. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook over low heat with partially covered with lid. Stir occasionally. Cook for 10 minutes until onion is soft, but not brown. If needed, add 1 Tbsp additional oil if onions begin to caramelize.
  3. Over low heat, sprinkle the flour into the pot and stir constantly to incorporate into the onion and garlic.
  4. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring constantly so that the four does not lump. 
  5. Add the tomatoes with juice, oregano, celery seed and black pepper and stir to combine.
  6. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to low heat. Cover pot. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  7. Remove pot from stove and let cool until the soup can be handled. Soup is hot, so use caution.
  8. Puree in three or four batches in food processor or blender until soup is smooth.
  9. Return to soup to pot and reheat. Taste and add salt, if needed.
  10. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with fresh chopped chives, if desired.
  11. Pass croutons separately

Here is how I made the Air Fryer Croutons:

A Very Small Batch of Air Fryer Croutons

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices stale, sandwich bread (or substitute sliced French bread, whole wheat bread or any firm textured bread)*
  • 1-2 tsp butter, melted**

Method and Steps:

  1. Very lightly butter both sides of sandwich bread.
  2. Using serrated knife, slice bread crosswise into fourths. Then turn and cut into cubes.
  3. Place in single later in air fryer basket.
  4. Heat air fryer to 300 degrees and fry for 10 minutes. Check croutons after 5 minutes and stir.***

*NOTE: Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled, depending upon the size of your air fryer basket. It is best to keep the croutons to a single layer in the basket. 

**NOTE:  If desired, mix 1/4 tsp garlic powder, onion powder and salt into melted butter prior to spreading on bread.

***NOTE: Some air fryers may need to be pre-heated. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.

And how about those chives! Chives are a hardy perennial and are a member of the onion and garlic family. My chives bloom every other year (biennial) but they grow as perennials. These are garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); they have a definite garlic aroma. The chives grow on long stalks, garlic chives have a hollow, flat stalk. The flowers are edible, too. Chives are rich in Vitamins A and C; so you are getting a bit of nutrition when you eat them. Eat chives raw or dried; they lose their flavor when heated and cooked. I planted the these chives in a sunny spot in a raised bed and they continue to grow year after year. My little plants really don’t need much attention — except weeding. Finally, a culinary use for my chives!

References

https://www.hunts.com/san-marzano-style/whole-peeled-tomatoes

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/hunts-introduces-new-san-marzano-style-tomatoes-300960579.html#:~:text=Hunt’s%20San%20Marzano%20Style%20tomatoes%20are%20steam%2Dpeeled%20and%20all,Basil%2C%20Garlic%20and%20Olive%20Oil.

https://www.marthastewart.com/7616623/san-marzano-tomatoes-explained

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