This hearty soup is easy to make and a favorite of many friends who come to eat with us. (Don't miss the delicious bean variation below, too!)
Three 28-oz can imported Italian whole tomatoes
2 yellow onions, chopped
5-6 large cloves garlic, chopped
a few cups organic chicken broth* (see below)
1 pint organic half and half
two big stalks rosemary
2 bay leaves
Chop the onions and sauté them in a big pot with a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. While they are cooking peel and chop garlic. Both onions and garlic can be cut in large pieces since you'll be pureeing the soup at the end. When the garlic and onions are soft (about 5 minutes), add the broth, tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. I keep this mix cooking on low heat for an hour or two, to let the flavors marry together. I consider it done when the rosemary leaves have fallen off the stalks. If you have a heel of parmigiano reggiano cheese, you can pop that in here too. Parm cheese is actually 100% milk, so the rind, though inedible because it's so tough, is perfectly fine to eat and will flavor a soup like this quite nicely.
Turn the heat off, let the soup cool down a bit, pull out the rosemary stalks and the bay leaves (and cheese rind, if applicable). Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you don't have an immersion blender you can transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor. When the soup is pureed, add the cream, check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. I like to serve this soup with crusty bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, or slices of Brie and apples.
Follow all the instructions above, but instead of cream, add cooked white beans (like cannellini, or, more commonly found in American markets, northern beans). Puree the beans into the soup, which will help to thicken it. The beans are obviously a lower fat option (and also make the soup vegan, if using veg broth instead of chicken). If using canned beans, you should season the soup less, as canned beans contain a lot of salt. This version of the soup is something we had at the great restaurant Il Conte Matto, and is very nice topped with garlicky crunchy croutons (recipe below). Before serving this soup, drizzle a bit of very nice olive oil over the top.
Nowadays I make my own, after reading the ingredients list on the store-bought stuff and discovering there was often sugar, flour and unknown ‘flavors’ in there, whatever that is. I buy organic free range chicken drumsticks or leg quarters, and boil them with onion and celery tops, plus herbs and spices. I then use the drumstick meat to make chicken salad sandwiches for Matt. Alternatively you can just buy organic chicken parts. Pricing this out in comparison to store bought stock, I found that my version was much cheaper, and obviously healthier. I make it in huge amounts and freeze the excess. For a soup like this, I’d use about 10-13 cups stock.
To make this dish vegan, try an herb/veg broth instead. Onion tops, celery tops, carrot tops, stalks of rosemary, thyme and sage, salt and pepper, boiled for an hour and strained will yield you a delicious broth perfect for this soup, and leftovers can easily be frozen.
For a special treat, you might want to add these croutons. You'll need a nice, thick loaf of Italian bread, one that has a crunchy, thick crust. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut the bread into thick slices and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the bread and salt and pepper it. Once the bread is nicely toasted, pull it from the oven and scrape a clove or two of fresh garlic over the bread. Cut into cubes and toss in the soup. Drizzle a bit of oil over the top of the soup and serve.