My mom would make it for me, and she would make it from a box. The soup was cloyingly creamy-sweet and the rice was overcooked and mushy. I didn't much care. It was happiness in a bowl. I've been pretty much chasing that flavour memory ever since. And I'll just say, whenever I've come close, it hasn't involved a box.
But I'm not opposed to cracking a few cans. Of tomatoes.
This creamy tomato and rice soup is my work-in-progress attempt to replicate the comfort food of my childhood, but with better results and much better ingredients. For depth of flavour (but still tons of ease), I start with canned whole tomatoes. They get a brief stint under the broiler to caramelize the sugars and deepen the flavours.
For even more flavour, the rice is cooked in a blend of chicken broth and the tomato juices strained from the cans.
But it's the creaminess the puts it over the edge. Instead of cream, I use cashew butter. It's just as rich and creamy, but less sweet. Nuts and tomatoes work wonderfully together, and this soup is a fine example. The cashew butter (sold alongside peanut butter), keeps the overall flavour of the soup savory without sacrificing the creaminess we find so comforting.
SPEEDY ROASTED TOMATO AND RICE SOUP
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Two 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
2/3 cup smooth cashew butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Salt and ground black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste
Heat the oven's broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then mist it with cooking spray.
Holding a mesh strainer over a large soup pot, strain the tomatoes. Set the pot aside, reserving the tomato juice.
Split each tomato in half and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Mist the tops of the tomatoes with cooking spray, then set on the oven's middle rack and broil for 5 minutes, or until lightly charred. Use tongs to flip the tomatoes and broil until the second sides are charred, another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the broth to the pot of tomato juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the rice, return to a simmer, cover, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. The rice will not absorb all of the liquid.
When the tomatoes are charred, use tongs to transfer them to a blender or processor. Add the cashew butter, then puree or process until very smooth. Add the tomato-cashew mixture to the rice, then return to a simmer. Add the thyme, then season with salt and pepper. Taste, then stir in hot sauce. Aim to add just enough hot sauce to heighten the flavours, but not add a discernable heat.
Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 130 calories from fat (46 per cent of total calories); 15 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 9 g protein; 660 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org