This soup is called "Sidekick" for two reasons: One, it's a grilled cheese sandwich's best friend, and two, it's a favorite at Sidekick Cafe--Cowgirl Creamery's lunch counter in San Francisco's Ferry Building. (The soup is also served at The Cowgirl Cantina in Point Reyes Station, California, and at the Cowgirl shop in Washington, D.C.)
The success of this soup depends on really good canned tomatoes and long, slow simmering so that all the flavors meld and mingle. The recipe is adapted from one in Cowgirl Creamery Cooks (Chronicle Books).
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Mediterranean bay leaves
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) whole peeled organic tomatoes with juice, preferably San Marzano or Muir Glen
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano, divided
About 1/2 cup crème fraîche
About 1 1/2 tbsp. chopped chives
How to Make It
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Pour in oil, then add onion, carrots, garlic, 1 tsp. salt, the red pepper flakes, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened and onion is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. "It's important to cook your onions before you add liquid. Otherwise they won't melt in a simmering pot; they stay fibrous," advises Smith.
Add tomatoes, crushing them up with your hands, plus their juice and 2 cans water. "Canned whole tomatoes are usually higher quality than chopped," Conley says. "But chopped are okay in a pinch." Bring soup to a simmer and add half of oregano. Decrease heat to very low and simmer, partly covered, 2 hours. About 20 minutes before soup is done, add remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and the remaining oregano.
Remove bay leaves and blend soup until smooth. Add a bit of water if the soup looks thick, and strain if you want it silky smooth.
This soup was very good. It did take some time to make so if you need it for lunch, start early (simmers two hours)! I do have one note of importance; DO NOT put the hot soup directly from the stove into your blender to blend. The heat of the soup causes it to increase in volume five-fold! (I knew about this but did it anyway!!) The top nearly blew off the top of the blender and hot soup splattered all over my kitchen walls and counters (I only filled the blender one third up). LET IT COOL OFF AT LEAST UNTIL IT'S JUST WARM BEFORE BLENDING IN BLENDER.
Sunset should note this in the recipe!
Now I LOVE Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and know what a high standard of food quality they have. This soup did not reach that standard in my opinion. I followed the recipe exactly. We found the soup to be thin, more like warm tomato broth with a heavy underlay of carrot. Unappealing. (Perhaps it did not cook enough, or the heat was too low for the liquid to evaporate.) We finally added a generous amount of salt and parmigiana to get some flavor. Since there is so much left over, I plan to cook some leftover cheese raviolis in it to thicken it. I hope that saves it. So sad.