It has been a beautiful September in northeastern Pennsylvania, but summer is most certainly over. Though the days are still warm, nights are cool and days are shorter, about the same length as in March. Leaves are changing and plant growth has greatly slowed. There is still plenty to harvest for a while yet, but new growth has slowed dramatically.
In the market garden, tomatoes, melons, squashes, and other warm weather crops have been mowed, tilled, and seeded to a winter cover crop of oats. Soon we’ll plant garlic to be harvested next summer. One of the pleasures of growing vegetables is the need to live both very much in the present and in the future at the same time.
At the restaurant last weekend we offered a final homage to passing summer in a soup we made with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. I love the simple ratios involved: 1 pound tomatoes, 1 pound peppers, ½ pound onions, 1 cup vegetable broth, ½ cup cream. Simple enough to keep memorized. Even more I love the color and lovely freshness of this soup, which combines the flavors of summer with a hint of fall to come. A perfectly pureed soup is both comforting and elegant, though keeping back a little of the soup unpureed contributes much to its texture and interest. I think this soup is best with vegetable broth (just onions, carrots, and celery boiled for 30 to 45 minute). I make this soup at many times of year, though to me it is best suited for the last tomatoes and peppers in September or October.
1) Begin by slicing the onion into very thin half moons. If you have a mandoline, use it.
2) Cook the onion in a generous bit of olive oil over medium heat until much reduced and starting to color. It is essential to draw out flavor from the onion in this stage.
3) While the onion is cooking, peel the pepper and cut into thin strips. Peeling the pepper is essential as it releases tremendous flavor and aroma.
4) When the onion is starting to take on some color, add the peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Stir well and cook another 10 minutes or more until the peppers are softened.
5) Add the tomatoes (canned or peeled fresh ones) with another pinch of salt, and simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. Salting at this point is critical.
6) Add the broth (or water if you must) and simmer for 5 minutes, then puree most of the soup in a blender, but keeping sure to keep back some of the soup (especially onions) for texture.
7) Check for salt and return to heat. Add the cream and serve.