soupIt’s been a bad year for tomatoes in the San Francisco Bay Area. They ripened late, and the inconsistent weather wreaked havoc on their flavor. But great tomatoes are available at the farmers’ market for a little bit longer, so I don’t want to eat the not-so-stellar ones out of my garden unadorned. This soup is the perfect solution.

In addition to mediocre tomatoes, it makes good use of an underutilized green. Escarole comes in big heads with pale, ruffled leaves. It looks a little like lettuce but its part of the chicory family. It is flavorful, but not bitter, and it cooks down to a delightful tenderness, unlike some of the stringier kales. The saffron in this soup adds a touch of elegance but it isn’t necessary. For a heartier soup, add cubed potatoes or 1/4 cup of basmati rice when you add the tomatoes and broth and cook an extra 5 minutes until tender.

And if you’ve still got great tomatoes in your garden? I’m envious. But don’t let that stop you from making this soup. It will be even better.

Serves four as a first course.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes
2 pinches saffron
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 a medium onion, peeled and diced
1 celery rib, diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 bunch escarole, torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces and thoroughly washed
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetarian) homemade if you can swing it
Bread for croutons (stale bread is fine)
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional) for serving
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. While waiting for the water to boil, remove the stems from the tomatoes and, using a paring knife, cut a small “x” into the bottom of each one. When the water comes to a boil, carefully lower the tomatoes into the water and boil for about 30 seconds or until the peels begin to separate from the tomatoes. Drain and cool.

2. Meanwhile, put the saffron in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of water.

3. Cut the cooled tomatoes in half and gently squeeze out most of the seeds (you don’t need to go crazy getting them all). Transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse gently until you have a coarse purée. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop them thoroughly with a knife)

4. Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

5. Add the escarole and 1 cup of the broth, along with a pinch of salt. Lower the heat and stir to coat all of the escarole. Cover loosely and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the toughness of the escarole; you want it to be melted and soft.

6. Add the tomatoes, saffron with its water, the remaining broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes to blend flavors.

7. While you’re waiting, toast some bread for croutons. When your ready to serve the soup, top with croutons, grated cheese if desired, and drizzle with olive oil.