It was so cold in my apartment this past weekend and it wasn’t until I realized I was wearing an ear-flapped fur hat and a bathrobe over my street clothes that I decided the heat situation needed to be remedied. Pronto. So I packed up my laptop, put on a scarf, and headed out to a bar that I knew had electrical outlets … and a fireplace.
Don’t get me wrong. My creaky old apartment has a lot of charm. It has high ceilings, glass door knobs, and big beautiful windows that leak out a maddening amount of heat on gray January days.
Apparently, I've decided to circumvent this issue by developing a weekend drinking problem. I suppose I can think of worse things—like, say, having to bathe with an ushanka on—but fixing up a steaming bowl of tomato basil might not be as hard on my liver. Also, I’m not actually Russian. So, we should probably get back to soup.
Especially this soup. Which I am pleased to say does not contain a drop of alcohol(!). Though—if I’m being completely honest here—its origins did come about after plans for making bloody marys fell apart one Saturday. (A leopard doesn’t ever really change her spots, now does she?) I was left with a big bottle of tomato juice and some time to kill. What resulted was a soul-warming soup. And, if I may be so bold, I haven’t found a comparable recipe since.
The bit of butter in the soup gives it a little richness, while the habanero kicks in some heat. And this warmth is particularly welcomed on blustery winter days. Don’t let the tomato juice throw you, it makes the whole soup process very low maintenance. In fact, I forgo the blender entirely and leave the sautéed onions and basil bits alone. Let’s just say it’s good enough this way to keep me at home, far away from cozy bar stools.
You'll want to make this soup on a lazy winter day when you’re looking for an antidote to the Boston chill. You can casually tend to it on the stove top, perhaps with a drink in hand. Lillet would work well for such a role. As would a Barbera. Though, to be clear, this soup is fully capable of warding off the cold, all on its own.
Spicy Tomato Basil Soup
~2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small onion diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 habanero pepper, seeds removed and pepper flesh minced
6 cups tomato juice
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp coriander
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
~1/2 cup packed basil, divided
Heat a large saucepan on medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and saute until the onions are nearing translucent; then add garlic and habanero, season everything with salt and pepper, and stir occasionally until the garlic and pepper soften.
Add the tomato juice and spices to the pan and stir to combine. Mash together the butter and flour and add it to the tomato mixture. Cut the basil into thin strips and add half to the pot. Let the tomato soup simmer until it thickens and gets rich in flavor, about 45 minutes or so. Add the remaining basil; taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed.
Makes about 5 cups
-This is a casual recipe, taste and adjust as you go. It gets better the longer it sits. This is not usually true with people that sit on bar stools. Or maybe it is.
-Let the bar come to you: a Lillet cocktail while you cook.