A star chef’s best cold weather remedy is simple tomato soup


During the dark days of winter, the feel-good food you want to eat is a steaming bowl of soup.

It’s a food with a long history of comfort; no less an expert than Campbell Soup Co. dates back to 20,000 BC, the approximate date of a bowl of soup found in China. (The pottery fragments showed burn marks, a sign that the soup was hot.)

More recently, the aura of nourishment and convenience that soup provides has come to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Campbell’s sales were up 52% ​​from a year earlier, although they have since retreated closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Traditionally, chicken soup has been considered the de facto panacea. But Alon Shaya thinks tomato soup, sprinkled with plump grains of rice, ranks even higher on the comfort scale. The acclaimed New Orleans chef, whose latest opening is Miss River in the Four Seasons, addressed the issue in his 2018 cookbook, Shaya, An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel: A Cookbook (Knopf ; $35).

The book features a recipe for his tomato and rice soup. “People call chicken soup with rice ‘the Jewish grandmother’s prescription,’ a cure for whatever ails you,” he wrote in the recipe summary. “This vegetarian version is perhaps even more so; it makes you feel good.”

Shaya’s tomato soup recipe is courtesy of her grandmother, Matilda Gerassi. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, he faked a high temperature so she would do it to him. “I would put the thermometer in the radiator and then I would come downstairs and show it to him. I would say, ‘Listen, I can’t go to school, can you make me this soup?'” She also made soup with chicken, “but it was the one I wanted.”

The vegan soup uses the

standard ingredients you’d expect: onions, garlic and tomatoes, which at this time of year should be good quality preserves. (If you live in an area with ripe, fresh fruit, go for it.)

Where her soup becomes a work of genius is the inclusion of caramelized tomato paste, which Shaya calls her secret weapon. Spoonfuls of batter are tossed with the sautéed onions and olive oil to caramelize and magnify the sweet tomato pop.

He also throws a few unconventional spices into the pot: Syrian Aleppo pepper flakes, which have a crisp, crisp heat, and star anise. The tastes bounce in the mouth. “I always want the flavors to keep rolling; a great way to do that is to use spices,” says Shaya. “You may not know exactly what you’re tasting, you just know it’s interesting.”

As a soothing finishing touch, there’s the rice, suspended in the thick soup.

Shaya has never served hot soup at any of her restaurants; he prefers to do it for friends back home. He offers a chilled version at Miss River, made with creole tomatoes, tomato paste and olive oil. It sounds lovely, but it’s not what you dream of on a cold winter day.

The following recipe is adapted from Shaya, An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel: A Cookbook, by Alon Shaya.

Tomato Soup with Rice

For 6 to 8 people

Two 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes or 4 lb. very ripe tomatoes, cored

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. kosher salt

1 dried bay leaf

1 star anise pod

1 C. Aleppo pepper

1 tbsp. sweet paprika

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 cups of water

1/3 cup jasmine rice or other long-grain rice

Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary. (If using fresh tomatoes, cut off the pits and coarsely chop them first.)

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic and salt. Stir occasionally so the onion slices sweat and soften, but don’t let them brown. When the vegetables are translucent and tender, add the bay leaf, star anise, Aleppo and sweet paprika. Stir everything well and toast the spices for a minute or two until super fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine, allowing to brown and develop flavor for a few more minutes.

Add the tomato puree and water, and increase the heat. Bring everything to a boil, skim off the foam (being careful not to force the spices) and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook for 10 minutes until it just begins to thicken. Meanwhile, rinse the rice in a colander until the water runs clear. (Be thorough here or the starch can gum up the soup.) Once the soup has thickened a bit, add the rice to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is thickened. cooked, 20 to 30 minutes. Before serving the soup, fish out the spices (or make a game of them and see who finds them in the bowls). Finish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil.

The flavor of this rice tomato soup is extra rich thanks to the caramelized tomato paste. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo of Kate Krader


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