I adore chilled soup when the weather is warm (as it is more often than not in Florida). But the variations on gazpacho and vichyssoise that abound in restaurants, as well as my own kitchen, can get boring. So I got excited about a creative soup special at Brick & Mortar Kitchen & Wine Bar–cold tomato soup with a seductively smoky flavor.
“The tomatoes were in the smoker all day yesterday and they smelled fabulous,” our server told us. I’ve seen chef Jason Ruhe at the Little Pond Farm stand at Saturday Morning Market, so when he came by to ask how I liked the soup, I wasn’t surprised to hear that was the source of the tomatoes.
June marks the end of Florida’s tomato season. (Crazy, right? Just as tomatoes come into season everywhere else.) So Chef Jason bought all the local tomatoes he could get his hands on to smoke, dry, can and otherwise preserve into the future.
As a condo dweller, I don’t have a smoker, so replicating his soup was out of the question. But, with dinner guests on the horizon and those flavors still in my mind, I thought of a work-around. In lieu of smoking the tomatoes, I sprinkled the thick slices with hickory salt before slow baking them for a couple of hours.
Next they went into the blender with cucumber and a sweet onion my aunt had sent from Texas, plus smoked paprika to reinforce the smoky flavor profile. I resisted the impulse to add sherry vinegar and garlic, touches that would take the soup in a familiar gazpacho direction.
The verdict? My soup was paler in color and lacked the saturated smokiness that only a smoker can impart. But it tasted refreshing, with a distinctively smoky edge, and I loved the showy fresh corn, zucchini and pea shoot garnishes. And yet another occasion to use my beloved vichyssoise dishes (early-marriage 1970s Williams Sonoma).
All the same, I’d order Brick & Mortar’s smoked tomato soup again in a heartbeat–or any of Chef Jason’s other inventive dishes.
Chilled Tomato Soup with Smoky Seasonings
Makes 6 servings
Extra virgin olive oil
7 medium tomatoes (about 3 pounds), trimmed and thickly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 small sweet onion, peeled and cut in chunks
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
Garnishes: 1 1/2 cups blanched or sautéed fresh corn kernels and small-diced zucchini, pea shoots
1. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Smear a sheet pan with olive oil and arrange the tomato slices on top. Sprinkle both sides with hickory salt. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning once, until the tomatoes turn very soft and their color deepens.
2. Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and paprika with 1/4 cup olive oil in a blender; puree until very smooth. Dilute with water if too thick. Taste and add more salt if needed. (For a silkier texture, pass the soup through a fine strainer or the fine disc of a food mill.)
3. Transfer the soup to a bowl and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve: Pour into pretty glass bowls or martini glasses. Heap mixed corn and zucchini in the center and insert a small cluster of pea shoots.