When fall descends, one of my favorite warm-up meals is tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.
I grew up on Campbell’s tomato soup, but I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt for opening a can when homemade soup is so simple, delicious and packed with nutrients. Still, no one wants to come home after a long day and start chopping a pile of veggies.
That’s why this recipe for a slow-cooker tomato soup made my heart leap a little. It took about 20 minutes of preparation time to get the onions, carrots and celery chopped, caramelized and dumped into the slow cooker with the tomatoes, and then I could walk away for most of the day. I saved the work for a Saturday morning and it filled my house with the comforting smells that come only from a long-simmering pot of soup.
If you have one, be sure to include a rind from a Parmesan cheese wedge into the soup. It gives the soup a nice depth of flavor and you were probably going to throw it away anyhow.
It also takes some work to puree the soup after it cooks. It’s a little messy, but really didn’t take too long at all. I scooped hot soup into the blender in batches, carefully covering the open lid with a towel (to prevent a hot soup explosion in the kitchen). Those with an immersion blender will find this part of the recipe a cinch.
The original recipe called for thickening the soup with a roux made with butter, flour and milk, but I wanted my school-age boys to eat it, so I opted to leave it out and stir in mini ravioli instead. The soup already had a nice consistency.
I didn’t want to take any chances overcooking the mini ravioli, so I made them separately and stirred them into each bowl as needed (more for the little boys and fewer for the grown-ups). It’s also a nice way to serve the soup if you’re serving someone with Celiac disease or those who choose not to eat gluten or cheese.
The ratio of vegetables to tomatoes in this recipe probably makes it more of a vegetable soup with tomatoes, but please don’t tell my children. If you want a bigger tomato flavor, just add more. I used canned tomatoes for the soup, but if your garden has been more prolific than mine you can easily substitute some Roma tomatoes from the garden in this recipe. The instructions are included below.
After dinner, we stirred soup and remaining ravioli together and froze the leftovers in a gallon freezer bag. That gave us a quick, hearty weeknight meal for almost no extra effort. Since we needed it in a pinch, I thawed the bag in hot water in the sink and then warmed it gently on the stove.
Serve this soup with slices of toasted whole-grain bread and you won’t even miss the cheese sandwiches.
Slow-Cooker Tomato-Basil Soup with Mini Ravioli
Adapted from Skinnytaste.com
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, with juice (see note)
1 teaspoon thyme
3 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
Parmesan or Romano cheese rind (optional)
1 bay leaf
8 ounces mini ravioli (see note)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, for garnish
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots and onions. Cook 5 to 6 minutes or until golden. Add to slow cooker.
Pour the juice of the tomatoes into the slow cooker, then roughly crush the tomatoes and add to the slow cooker. Stir in chicken or vegetable broth, the cheese rind (if using), thyme and bay leaf. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, until the vegetables are soft and the flavors blended. Remove the cheese rind and bay leaf. Blend the soup until smooth using an immersion blender. Or, carefully blend the soup in small batches in a blender. Remove the center of the blender lid and cover the top with kitchen towel. The towel may get splattered with soup, but it will prevent the steam from sending the lid and hot soup all over the kitchen.
Stir in the chopped basil and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm while the mini ravioli cook.
Cook the mini ravioli according to package directions and then stir desired amount of ravioli into each bowl of soup before serving. Garnish with grated cheese before serving.
Notes: To use Roma tomatoes from the garden instead, blanch the tomatoes in a big pot of boiling water until the skins crack. Remove, cool and peel before adding to the slow cooker. Undercook the mini ravioli slightly to make sure that they don’t disintegrate when they are stirred into the finished soup.
Yield: About 10 cups