Cream of tomato soup with puff pastry crowns
Makes 4 cups (4 servings)
This tomato soup is as comforting as the canned variety you ate as a kid, but fresh and elegant wearing a pastry crown instead of saltines. Serve it to your most discriminating guests. Or, for simplicity, garnish with croutons and omit the puff pastry.
For the soup
1 small sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup water
1/3 cup tomato paste
4 large (2 pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
For the puff pastry
1 tablespoon water
One frozen puff pastry sheet (8 to 9 ounces), thawed
To complete the recipe
2 cups half-and-half or milk
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Ground white pepper to taste
Wrap the thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Whisk together the water and tomato paste in a small bowl; add to the soup. Stir in the tomatoes and garlic; immerse the cheesecloth bag in the soup. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer until the tomatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the puff pastry. Preheat the oven to 400° F; line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment. Lightly beat the egg with the water. Unroll the puff pastry on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut rounds of puff pastry slightly smaller than the soup bowl tops. (You can use the scraps of dough to make designs, such as an arrangement of triangles, atop the pastry.) Lightly brush the tops with the egg mixture. Bake the pastry rounds on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is puffed and golden brown. Transfer the rounds to a wire rack; set aside to cool.
When the tomatoes are tender, remove the cheesecloth packet from the soup. Purée the soup in a blender.
Place a coarse strainer over a bowl. Pour the soup into the strainer in several batches, stirring with a wooden spoon. Discard the soup solids.
Transfer the soup to the Dutch oven. Add the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 2 tablespoons butter; stir until the butter melts and the soup is heated through. Season to taste.
Top each serving with a pastry round.
This soup will keep for up to 3 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. The puff pastry is best when baked just before serving.
Paulette Mitchell, a culinary instructor, television personality, spokesperson, freelance food writer, and the award-winning author of 13 cookbooks, is known internationally for her quick-to-prepare recipes with gourmet flair. Paulette's most recently published cookbook is "The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh." She is also the author of "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" and "The Spirited Vegetarian," which was voted "Best Book in the World on Cooking with Wine" at the 2005 Gourmand World Media Awards. Paulette says that international travel is her favorite source of culinary inspiration.