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In the Kitchen: Remaking some childhood comfort soups this fall

Most of us have comfort foods that take us right back to our childhood. Some of those, however, might need a makeover. 

I absolutely loved tomato, split pea and mushroom soup in the cans with the red labels. Now that I can read labels, I don’t want all of the ingredients in those cans. I also want to control the sodium content — something that is quite high in almost every canned soup. Not only that, most canned soups are so bland in comparison to ones you make at home. 

I like to make a big batch and freeze the soup in individual containers — mason jars are great for this. Just make sure you leave an inch or two at the top of the glass since the soup expands when frozen.  

Here are some updated recipes of these iconic soups — I promise they are infinitely better than their canned counterparts. 

Roasted tomato soup

2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

Salt and pepper to taste

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup onion, minced

2 ½ cups chicken broth (low sodium)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a colander in a bowl and then pour the two cans of tomatoes into the colander. With a big spoon or your clean hands, break up the tomatoes, letting the juices collect in the bowl. Reserve for later. 

Place the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the garlic cloves in aluminum foil and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper and lay the thyme sprigs, tossing with the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes for about 35 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from oven and cool. Remove the tough stems from the thyme and discard. 

Heat the butter in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, crushed red pepper flakes and heavy cream. Unwrap the garlic from the aluminum foil and squeeze the pulp into the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot, or transfer to a blender and puree. Taste for salt and pepper. 

You don’t have to roast the tomatoes and I have successfully made it many times by skipping this step. However, it is much better if you take the time to roast the tomatoes. 

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Split pea is not the most visually appealing food — but it is delicious. This version is packed with flavor, due to the smoked ham hock. If you cannot find a ham hock, you can use a ham bone. Alternatively, use a bit of smoked paprika and some chopped deli ham. 

Split pea soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stem

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups dried split peas, rinsed (no need to soak them)

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 smoked ham hock or ham bone, or ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

In a stock pot, melt butter. Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add bay leaves, thyme, split peas, broth and ham hock (or ham bone or smoked paprika). Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer (covered) for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If too thick, add some more stock or water. When peas are soft and creamy, remove ham hock to a cutting board. Cool slightly and then cut off the meat and return to the soup pot. Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning.

•    •    •

The secret to this soup is the white wine or sherry and the balsamic vinegar you add at the end —it just gives it a little mystery flavor you simply cannot find in a can. 

Cream of mushroom soup

4 tablespoons flour

1 ½ pound white or brown mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed

3 tablespoons flour

¾ cup dry sherry or dry white wine

4 ½ cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup parsley, minced

Heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat and add about a third of the mushrooms. Cook until well browned, about five minutes. 

Remove from pot and set aside to use as a garnish. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same pot and add the mushrooms, onion, celery, garlic, and thyme, cooking until tender, about 8 minutes. 

Sprinkle on the flour and cook another two or three minutes, stirring. Carefully add the sherry or wine, stirring constantly. Cook a minute and then add the stock and the cream. Bring to a boil and then simmer 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Use an immersion blender to puree or puree in a blender in batches. Add the balsamic vinegar. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle on the parsley and top with the reserved cooked mushrooms.