At the Greenpoint-based ‘micro-soupery’ The Splendid Spoon, Nicole Chaszar makes simple but sophisticated, hyper-seasonal soups with ingredients sourced directly from local farms, and delivers them to the doors of soup-fiends citywide.
We joined Nicole at Paulie Gee’s, where she spends two mornings a week in the kitchen, to concoct one of her high-summer specialties, a chilled (or warm) tomato and dill soup.
So Nicole, tell us about this soup we’re making today.
We’re making a tomato soup with fresh herbs, that can be served warm or chilled. It’s a perfect soup for this time of year. Tomatoes have been coming in from New Jersey for a few weeks and will be coming in from New York farms very soon. It’s exciting to see those beautiful mounds of ripe tomatoes start to show up at the markets. They’re so fragrant and colorful, and they’re just finally ready to give you that fresh tomato flavor that you’ve been waiting for all year.
How did you come up with the recipe?
In all my soups, I like to let the main ingredient be the star. I wanted to make a tomato soup that wasn’t a traditional creamy tomato soup. And I wanted to make a tomato soup that wasn’t gazpacho. The gazpacho that I love – the traditional Andalusian gazpacho – has bread and roasted peppers in it, and I really wanted to just focus on the tomato. So the challenge became, “How do I come up with a tomato soup that’s not full of cream or dairy, that’s not gazpacho, and doesn’t end up being marinara sauce?” [laughter.]
I wanted to make it just about the tomato. And dill turned out to be the secret ingredient for me. As soon as I added the dill, I was like, “OK. This is a perfect summer soup.” It’s so good chilled, it’s not gazpacho, and it’s brimming with tomato flavor. The dill gives the soup a different kind of creaminess. It’s a kind of unexpected cool, fresh, herbal creaminess, and that’s what really made it click for me.
And what else is in the soup?
So we start with beefsteak tomatoes from Kernan Farms in Cumberland County, New Jersey. We pick them up at the Borough Hall Greenmarket. Heirloom tomatoes are wonderful and very popular, but good ol’ beefsteaks are perfect for soup. Save the beautiful heirlooms for eating raw – just slice them and drizzle with a really nice Spanish olive oil and sea salt. There’s no reason to cook them. The beefsteaks are for perfect cooking.
And in all our soups we use a lot of seasonal Alliums – whatever seasonal onion, garlic or scallion is available. The Alliums create the base. At this time of year we’re using green scallion and garlic from Glebocki Farms in Goshen, New York, upstate. The fun thing about using seasonal Alliums is that you get to see them mature from week to week. The scallions go from being these tiny, very delicate things in spring, to these big, sturdy, hardy things in summer, and as they grow, the flavor changes. Same with the garlic – until now the bulbs have been very small, narrow and young. Now we’re starting to see the first mature heads of garlic come in.
I found that using the scallion gave the soup more dimension. A lot of tomato soup recipes have carrot in them, to add sweetness, but I didn’t want to use carrot. I found that by cooking the scallions and garlic just a little bit longer and getting a little color on them, that caramelization provided the sweetness I wanted to balance the acidity of the tomato without having to add carrot or sugar, which is added to a lot of more processed soups.
So that’s how we always start with all our soups – seasonal Allium, whatever main ingredient seems to be the most beautiful or most inspiring at the moment, and then lots and lots of fresh herbs. Using lots and lots of herbs allows me to use less salt. A lot of soups are very salty, even over-seasoned, and I think that takes away from the natural flavor, freshness, and vibrancy of a soup.
Today, we’re using dill from Glebocki Farms and basil from Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. Sometimes we put a little cilantro in this one, but not today. The herbs give the soup a really beautiful depth. The basil has that spiciness to it, and the dill is very cooling, and each note really gives the soup personality and depth, and highlights the main ingredient, the tomato, really nicely.
The other nice thing about using fresh herbs is that you can make a pesto out of any of them. Whenever we have leftover herbs, which we almost always do, we make a really simple unseasoned pesto to capture that bright, fresh, seasonal flavor, and we freeze it so we can have fresh herbs all year round.
We also use a little cayenne pepper from Eagle Street. Annie grows so much of it up on that hot, dry rooftop, that she has lots of dried pepper available all year. We use it to layer flavor, not to make it spicy. We’re always looking for ways to balance the acidity of the tomato and the pepper really compliments and brings out more of that warmth. We’ve got the cooling flavor of the dill and the warming flavor of the chili, so you get a nice balance there without it being spicy.
And then we use a vegetable broth to control the consistency. There’s so much water in tomatoes that you really don’t need much additional liquid. You can really use whatever kind of broth you want, or even just water, because the flavor in the soup is really all coming from the tomato, the allium and the herbs. So the broth in this soup is not about flavor – it’s about controlling the consistency.
And then of course we have some salt, black pepper, and olive oil. And that’s it.
Simple enough. So how do we actually make it?
This is a really easy soup to make. I like to start by blanching the tomatoes, just to get that out of the way. To do that, we just score the the bottom of the tomatoes by making a little ‘x’ on the bottom with two cuts of the knife. That allows the skin to come off really easily, and helps us to know when they’re done. So we put the tomatoes in simmering water for three or four minutes. As soon as the corners of the ‘x’ start to peel back, they’re ready. They’re worth watching, because if they go too long and the skin splits, it’s a little too late. As soon as they’re done, we take them out and plunge them in ice water to stop them from stewing.
When they’ve cooled, we remove the skin. It slides right off. Then I remove the tough parts around the stems and put the blanched tomatoes through a food mill to puree them. As annoying as it is to clean a food mill, I cannot live without it.
So next, we take our pot, heat up the olive oil, and let our chopped scallion and garlic cook for about ten or fifteen minutes, to let that deep caramelized flavor and sweetness develop. Then we taste and season it, and add the tomato puree. We just let that go and simmer for another fifteen minutes or so, to evaporate a little of the water content from the tomato and to let everything sort of meld and combine, and become the soup. [laughter.]
Once that’s done, we remove it from the heat and add the chopped herbs and the pepper. We don’t want the herbs to cook. The less they cook, the longer they’ll retain that bright, vibrant flavor, and they’ll stay greener too. If you don’t eat the soup right away and you put it in the fridge, you’ll see that the herbs will start to lose that bright green color, because they start to cook in the acid from the tomato. That’s ok though – it doesn’t really affect the flavor very much – it’s just not as perfectly pretty as when you have those bright green flecks of herb suspended in the red of the tomato puree.
You can check the soup for consistency now. If it’s too thick, you can add a little bit of broth to get it right. And then we puree it. When we’re done pureeing, we just taste and season, and we’re done. That’s it!
We can chill it for a bit and serve, or you can have it warm. It’s good either way.
Recipe: Summer Tomato and Dill Soup
Ingredients (makes 6 servings)
- 4 lbs fresh tomato (any variety – beefsteaks are in season throughout summer and are a great option)
- 1.5 cups scallion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or water)
- ½ cup basil leaves, loosely packed – chopped
- ½ cup dill, tough stems removed, loosely packed – chopped
- Blanch tomatoes: score bottom, submerge in simmering water for 5 minutes, transfer to ice water.
- Remove tomatoes from ice water and puree using a food mill. If you do not have access to a food mill, peel and core the tomatoes and chop into 1-inch chunks.
- Pour olive oil into a heavy-bottom pot and sweat scallion and garlic over medium heat for 15 minutes until very tender and caramelized.
- Stir in tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Add stock if necessary to prevent the mixture from becoming too thick. The soup will bubble and darken to a deeper ruby color as it cooks.
- Season with salt and pepper, add basil and dill and puree with immersion blender (or puree in a standard blender in batches).
- Add stock to achieve desired consistency and adjust seasoning to taste.
- Serve chilled or warmed. Finish with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil or a dollop of crème fraiche.
- Don’t worry about chopping herbs or tomatoes perfectly, since the final soup will be pureed.
- Save your herb stems for stock! If you don’t have stock on hand for this recipe you can simmer the stems in 2.5 cups of water with a sprinkle of peppercorns and a bay leaf while your tomatoes are blanching. It only takes about 15 minutes and the herbal oils released in this short-cut stock will produce a more flavorful soup.
- If using a standard blender to puree the hot soup, vent the lid. A tight lid creates a buildup of steam pressure that is likely to explode when the motor kicks in. Simply place a towel over the vented lid to prevent your kitchen from looking like a crime scene.
To find out more about The Splendid Spoon’s soups and delivery service, check out their website.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.