It's canned tomatoes season. I use them like crazy all year round, but it's in these dark winter months that I especially appreciate their thrift, flavor, and omnipresence. I always have at least two kinds in my pantry--diced and whole. Whole ones tend to be sweeter--those bitter seeds haven't been pulverized and floating around in there. And I buy whatever's on sale at Trader Joe's or Safeway. Occasionally, if I'm feeling celebratory, I'll buy a can of San Marzano plum tomatoes, but they're at least twice as much. The beautiful can is half the pleasure.
These are the sorts of simple meals that sustain us in the winter--quick soups that we can eat 3 nights in a row. The kids don't thrill to vegetable soups, but I think the amount of pizza we eat makes up for it--don't you? Plenty of bread for dunking usually helps quell the rebellion, too.
My soups always contain some sort of thickener--if I don't use rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, or a bit of flour, I'll take a few cups out and pulse them in the food processor. When I eat soup out (rarely), I find that they're either distressingly thin or too thick. When you're in your own kitchen, you can fiddle with them until they're just the way you want.
My friend Kathy says one reason she likes cooking is the feeling of getting something done. You start at 5:00, and you've produced something by 6:00. There aren't many things in life like that--i.e. "By 6:00 I'm going to have become a better parent," or "Tomorrow morning I'm going to gain confidence." But soup--that's another matter. You can have a crappy day where nothing gets done, people let you down, and the heater in your car breaks. Then you can come home and make soup. It might almost even out.
Tomato Rice Soup with Kale
You know me and my love for bitter greens. If you don't share that love, you can use spinach, but don't add it until the very last minute so it retains its flavor and color. You could leave the carrot and celery out of this soup, too, and it will still be delicious. And I threw a parmesan rind in here because I had one (what's left when the actual cheese is gone), but you could certainly leave it out.
3 Tb. olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into very thin coins
2 bay leaves
1 Tb. fresh thyme or 1 ts. dried thyme
1 large bunch kale, washed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes with juice, pureed in the food processor with a few chunks left in
1/2 c. long grain rice (such as Basmati)
4 c. water
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
celery leaves, olive oil, and grated parmesan for serving
In a large stockpot, heat olive oil. Add onion,garlic, celery, and onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, salt, pepper, and thyme. Add kale, stirring vigorously, and saute until kale turns bright green and is beginning to wilt.
Add pureed tomatoes, water, rice, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender, adding more water to your liking. Add more salt and pepper to taste and some crushed red pepper flakes, if you like.
Serve with finely chopped celery leaves, finely grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.