I adore fall, and the change that it brings. The cooler air seems to bring with it a sense of renewal that I find more intense than the spring. After a long, hot summer, I cannot wait to pull out my sweaters, trade my iced coffees for warm lattes, and to treat myself to all the wonderful foods of fall. Warm stews and soups, roasted squash and parsnips, pies and delicious warm breakfasts of oatmeal are all the ultimate comfort foods to me. I feel inspired and reflective in the fall. The slower pace and softer light offer a beautiful new perspective.
We were lucky enough to get a little cooler weather right in time for the beginning of September, and although I know we have more hot weather ahead of us here in the South, my mind and body are already set in the new season, and so I've begun cruising through my cookbooks and magazines, looking for my inspiration for these next few months in the kitchen. I pulled out this recipe from Gourmet last month, and the soup is a perfect transition from summer to fall. It uses the last of the tomatoes reddened in the summer sun, or, if you're like me and you already exhausted your supply, go ahead and use canned tomatoes. I can guarantee the results are just as tasty.
This soup is satisfying without being heavy. With a salad or a slice of bread, it would make a great lunch or light dinner.
Provencal Tomato Soup with Rice
2 lb tomatoes (or substitute 1 28-oz, and 1 14-oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, de-seeded as instructed below)
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise (2 cups)
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
1 celery rib, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh orange zest, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Scant 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Turkish bay leaf or 1/4 California
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups water
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch crumbled saffron threads
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup long-grain white rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Cut a shallow X in bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife. Blanch tomatoes in batches of 2 or 3 in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling water 10 seconds, transferring with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking.
Peel tomatoes, then halve crosswise. Squeeze halves gently, cut sides down, over a sieve set over a bowl to extract seeds and juices, then press on seeds and discard them. Reserve juice and tomatoes.
Cook onions, carrot, celery, garlic, zest, thyme, red-pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and bay leaf in oil in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with reserved juice, tomato paste, water, chicken broth, salt, pepper, saffron, and 1 teaspoon sugar, then simmer, uncovered, stirring and breaking up tomatoes with a spoon occasionally, 20 minutes. Stir in rice and simmer, uncovered, until rice is tender, 10 to 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf and stir in parsley, basil, and sugar and salt to taste.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.