Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Tomato Bisque


Elizabeth, this recipe is for you. Not because cans of Campbell’s tomato soup aren’t delicious. To say that their smooth, salty simplicity isn’t its own kind of wonderful would undermine my credibility. It would be like saying that chewy-crisp thick-cut bacon doesn’t hit every biological pleasure center. It would be like denying that milk chocolate melts in your mouth. It would be wrong.

And I don’t proffer this recipe because I think canned soup will gather somewhere, like storm clouds on the horizon of your children’s cells, threatening to erupt into a colossal storm in the not-so-distant future. We’ve all eaten our fair share of Campbell’s tomato soup, diluted with water and/or milk, which our moms measured out inside the cans themselves, to whish away all the little globs of tomato concentrate from the rippled insides. And even with canned soup residue coursing through us, we seem to be doing just fine. We’ve even managed to be fruitful and multiply ourselves. So, as far as I can tell, regular doses of canned soup didn’t give us anything except some inexpensive happiness on snowy days.

In spite of its undeniable yumminess and its happy spot in our childhood memories, I’ve given up the Campbell’s version…And I’ve given it up for this soup. This soup, my friend, is its own thing. It’s not silky smooth, and I don’t want it to be, although you can control the degree of smooth by just controlling your immersion blender. (You did go buy an immersion blender, right?) It’s a salty sweet blend of wholesomeness (a little like Campbell’s) but with considerably more complexity: a dash of smokiness, and a pinch of something sharp and warming, a secret ingredient. I’ll give you a hint:

magic nutmeg

Still don’t know? Well, I guess you’ll just have to keep reading.

I didn’t invent this recipe whole cloth, so I’ll refer you to the original:  Of course, as its author wrote in its intro, even it isn’t an original, having been adapted from a recipe in Food and Wine.  Such is the plight of all recipes in our postmodern, Pinterest-y world. My version, below, is a little less sweet and a little less buttery but a little creamier. Sugar, butter, and cream? Yes, gosh, yes! Isn’t that Campbell’s can sounding a little less enticing already?

In preparation for snowy days and dark evenings, Elizabeth, here’s my tomato soup recipe. Give it the kiddo-test and let me know how it goes!

Tomato Bisque

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed through a press

3 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons sugar

4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)

2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes, with juices

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or nutmeg from a tin, if that’s what you’ve got (That picture above: it’s half a nutmeg.)

1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

salt and pepper to taste

1. In a big soup pot, melt your butter and saute your chopped veggies until they get soft.


2. Stir in your tomato paste, sugar, and flour, and cook for a few minutes until the mixture begins to bubble/sizzle a little in the bottom of the pot.


3. Add your broth, tomatoes, and nutmeg and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then use your immersion blender to blend it all up, as smooth as you like.


4. Stir in your heavy cream or half-and-half and then adjust for seasoning.


5. Serve with a nice loaf of bread that can stand up to dipping. Maybe some no-knead sourdough?  Oh, and I almost forgot, I often add some cooked ravioletti (your favorite and mine, Elizabeth!) to the kids’ bowls so that this soup inches ever so slightly in the direction of Spaghettios or some other Chef Boyardee creation. But the adults in my house love ours straight up.

tomato bisque

When it’s homemade like this, soup really is good better food.


15 thoughts on “Tomato Bisque

  1. this makes me feel all cozy. 🙂

  2. Oh, good. It’s a day that calls for ‘cozy.’ If you decide you need some sugar so that you can cozy up your family, I know a lady who owes you approximately 22 pounds of baking goods and doesn’t live too far away…

  3. Oh, girls, this does sound cozy. Snuggle up by the fire cozy! And to think that for the first time in forever, I actually had a meal plan for this week! I will just have to scratch something out and try this warm, wonderful stuff. Thanks, friend, for the nostalgic image you painted, too. Part mittens on a snow day, part Andy Warhol, part mommas quickly scrambling for something to dip the grilled cheeses in. As wonderful as those memories truly are, I agree that there’s always room to “elevate.” I can’t wait to try this! And to try it out on my critics, ahem, kiddos.

    I will admit though, you really had me with that mystery image. Shew, I won’t say what came to mind at first, but I’m sure glad it was nutmeg. =)

    As for that immersion blender. Well, with as many hints as I’ve dropped these past few weeks, I will be shocked if I don’t have one wrapped up under the tree. Until then, I will just have to make do.

    But about the sourdough, as much as I’d love to crunch into that beautiful loaf you have pictured (YUM!), I’ve just not gotten my courage up to try real, homemade bread. (I know, you say it’s easy!!) At some point, I’m sure curiosity will get the best of me. As a matter of fact, this a far cry from the crusty bread that goes so well with wintry soups, but I actually have an Amish friendship bread starter fermenting away on my countertop right this very minute. Day 6. Maybe I’ll come around sooner than later and start giving this whole bread thing a real whirl.

    In the meantime, thanks so much for the many great recipes, roomie. LOVE, LOVE, LOVING your blog!

    Will let you know what they think!

  4. Oops! That was so long it was almost a blog on a blog! JGV would tell me, “the comment starts here, Elizabeth.” =)

    • Elizabeth, you can blog on my blog anytime. Ooooh, we could be co-bloggers and call it “Plainclothes and Piggy”! What do you think? I suspect you would instantly quintuple my readership!

      Don’t change your menu, lady. It will be cold next week, too, and probably rainy, and I guarantee your kids will be hungry. You could even wait until you open up that immersion blender and use this soup for its inauguration. 🙂

  5. I think you girls may be onto something! Plainclothes and Piggy. Nice!!

    Thanks, too, for the superhero link. Sounds perfect. =)

  6. I couldn’t wait until Christmas. Soup tonight in my non-immersion blender was absolutely delish! I got a thumbs up (“please make again”) from all at the table. Yay, mommy!

  7. What would I do without you?

  8. I forgot to update you (I know you are just waiting around to hear, ha ha). I did in fact open an immersion blender Christmas morning and by 1:30 I was blending up some simmered sweet potato-carrot soup that I had waiting. I cannot believe I am just now getting one of those!!!!! When I turned it on, it was one of those Elaine “get out!” moments, and I really wanted to have someone to just shove and yell that to. Mom was cooking with me, and I can’t bring myself to shove her. =)

  9. I know, right? Immersion blenders definitely make my top-5 list of handy kitchen gadgets. By the way, I think you should have totally shoved your mom. She would have been so shocked! Oh my gosh, just imagining the wide-eyed look on her face made me laugh out loud–in a totally good natured way, of course!

  10. Love this recipe Courtney! We have it every couple of weeks. I substitute coconut milk for the heavy cream. We seem to get enough fat with the homemade chicken broth and the coconut milk lightens it up a bit and still leaves is creamy.

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