When I was little, I would float saltine crackers on my tomato soup, then nudge them down slowly into my bowl, watching the tomato lava well up into the crackers’ holes. “Stay on the raft, stay on the raft,” I would whisper in the voices of the doomed adventurers on the sadly absorbent raft. I don’t remember if my poor little soup adventurers managed to jump to the rim of the bowl, or if I was a morbid enough kid that they perished descending the crater of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Volcano.
Tomato soup is as essential to my childhood as the sound of softballs hitting aluminum baseball bats and the hot, righteous tomato-red anger of yelling that it was Greg’s fault, not mine, slamming the door, and pulling at my own hair while scream-crying.
I figured I should add the last part because I always worry about sounding sappy, which I thought might happen after writing a list of childhood memories that turned out to be only one thing. Apparently, I also already forgot* that I lead with the tragic deaths of the tomato soup explorers.
Everything I do is overkill.
Anyway, speaking of scream-crying, this is exactly the brand of depression I was experiencing one particular night when it turned out that my partner would be working late and it would fall to me to provide dinner. This is the type of mental anguish which makes even searching for a tomato soup recipe overwhelming. The search was frustrating to begin with because, somewhere, we have a good recipe from when we first made homemade tomato soup back in 2007.
Back in 2007, tomato soup was still a mysterious thing. I had only ever tried it from a can, which is weird because I didn’t grow up eating a ton of processed food or stuff made from mixes. But Campbell’s tomato soup was a pantry staple. It was not a food composed of other ingredients, but a substance unto itself, a dull martian red liquid that could be listed as an ingredient in other recipes, such as meatloaf and hamburger pie. How many other soups can be listed as ingredients? There are no recipes that call for “an extra cup of tortilla soup, added at the end” or “corn chowder, added to the desired consistency.”
The only other soup that doubles as an ingredient is canned cream of mushroom, but I don’t know if “doubles” is the correct verb because I’ve never heard of anyone also eating cream of mushroom. It goes in green bean casserole**. That’s it. Then back in the corner. And when I say “corner,” I mean “dank dungeon with one of those giant, pendulous scythes.” I hate, hate, hate mushrooms, and for this reason, created an extremely factual infographic as a service to the world.
Back to the tomato soup. Combine a missing recipe with scream-crying depression, a baby I am responsible for taking care of, and the fact that I can’t chop onions anymore because of how quickly and painfully my eyes tear up. I can’t even chop a shallot, which is the size of the flesh at the base of my thumb. The weight of responsibility for cooking a meal–normally not one of my household chores–came to weigh on me like a couch being carried up two flights of stairs.
Why didn’t I order food out instead? I can’t remember why that wasn’t an option. Maybe I didn’t have the mental energy to dislodge the idea of tomato soup from my brain. Whatever the case, I arrived home from my parents’ house with a few tablespoons of dried minced onion and and some garlic cloves to get me started.
I sauteed the onion with butter, and burned it.
Luckily, I found that we had not been out of dried onion after all. I sauteed some more, and burned them again while focused on chopping the garlic.
But then everything clicked into place; I stopped burning things; the baby played nicely, banging jars on the floor and trying to sweep our filthy kitchen.
I prefer loose methods to recipes.
Here’s the tomato soup method I came up with:
Start with allium component–onion and garlic, in my case.
Add tomato component along with other liquids: water or broth.
Season while the liquids heat. Throw in a bay leaf, some Italian seasoning type stuff, if not Italian seasoning itself. Black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Add dairy component–milk or cream, plus some Parmesan for the umami.
And here’s what’s in that:
A few tablespoons of dried minced onion
A couple of tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic
One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with added basil
Italian seasoning, or similar
Crushed red pepper
A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, veggie flavor
A cup of water
A little over a cup of milk
This made enough for two dinner-sized bowls of soup, and a couple mugs leftover to have with salad the next day.
Between the ingredient list and the directions, it ended up being a proto-recipe, one lacking in specific ingredients. Or does that lack make it a method? Either way, it’s something to throw together without finally-tuned spice blends, and in less-than-ideal conditions.
*If it makes it better, I don’t write in order.
**And even that’s a stretch. It’s pretty easy to make a quick sauce of broth and cream instead.