tomatoes

We’re in the thick of tomato season (June to September in the US), which means it’s time to share one of my favorite simple soups.

Tomato soup is a common comfort food here in the US, and has a similar association in many western countries; Poland, I’ve found, is particularly fond of the soup, as it is the first thing young chefs learn to make (a quick Google search of “Zupa Pomidorowa” yields 1.5 million results).

Tomatoes are relatively new to the Western palate; first imported from Mexico to Europe by Spanish explorers, they were initially considered poisonous and used as ornamentals. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States – he was Secretary of State at the time, which leads one to wish all Secretaries of State were judged by the deliciousness of foods imported during their tenure. In the US, tomatoes were not commonly eaten until the 1830s, and the first record of tomato soup was written by famous American author Maria Parloa in 1872. Joseph Campbell’s condensed tomato soup cemented its comfort-food status in 1897.

The English word tomato is on loan from the Spanish tomate, which was lifted from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl. The first tomatoes were probably yellow, which makes sense when considering the other common word for the savory fruit, derived from the Italian pomodoro – a pairing of pomo ‎(“apple”) +‎ d’oro ‎(“golden”).

This soup takes about an hour to make with fresh tomatoes, slightly faster when using canned tomatoes, and significantly quicker with the help of my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (instructions for each method below).

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Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are often considered the most comforting of dishes, so much so that every Eastern European country wants to stake claim on owning the original recipe. While there is no definitive origin story, the prevailing story is this: members of the Russian aristocracy, visiting France in the mid-1700s, became enamored with their dishes of stuffed and roasted pigeons. Upon returning home, they ordered the dish to be recreated, and the closest they could come were the stuffed cabbage rolls we know and love today. This is evidenced by the similarity between the Russian words for stuffed cabbage rolls (Golubtsy) and pigeons (Goluby).

In recent years, a new phenomenon has sprouted up: Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Regular cabbage rolls require you to par-boil the cabbage leaves and roll each wrap before roasting or simmering everything; the whole process can take hours. Instead, home chefs have been simply chopping up the cabbage and adding it to the filling, cooking everything at once in about 1/4 of the time. This is the variation we’re going to tackle today.

Be sure to check out the video after the recipe; now that we’ve relocated to a house with a larger kitchen, I filmed a short cooking demonstration of the dish. I’m still working out some production kinks, but if you like the video I’ll keep cracking at it!

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So, I don’t really know anything about this recipe. I just happened to stumble upon it when looking at funny Finnish recipes. If there are any kind Finns who would love to enlighten me on the history of this dish, I’m all ears.

Essentially, the dish calls for simmering hot dogs (or mild sausages) in a tomato-based sauce, which based on my research often consists of ketchup and a few spices. It basically looked like a Chef Boyardee creation to me at first glance. Intrigued, I decided to deconstruct the sauce using more nutritious ingredients – from uncured German weiners to a sauce made with tomato paste, onion, carrot, and broth.

In the end, it didn’t quite capture the canned goodness (or lack thereof) that is Chef Boyardee, but what resulted was a tasty combination of warm tomato flavors that paired perfectly with some comforting boiled potatoes. At the end of the day, this is an easy, interesting dish that’s fun for the whole family.

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It’s funny, but up until recently I assumed there was already a ketchup recipe on my blog. I didn’t discover its absence until I developed Thursday’s recipe (hint: it rhymes with “beet oaf”), when I couldn’t find my recipe online. At first I was confused, and thought the search function of my blog was definitely broken. So…sorry about that, and here you go.

The history of ketchup is pretty awesome. It all started with garum, an ancient fish sauce first used by the Ancient Greeks and later the Romans. It reached Asia some 2,000 years ago via trade routes, and became a staple in many Asian countries, particularly Vietnam (where they later perfected the sauce using anchovies). Vietnamese fish sauce as we know it today entered China about 500 years ago, and the Chinese (particularly those in the Southeast providence of Fujian) spread it around the rest of Asia. The Fujian word for fish sauce? You guessed it, ketchup. In fact, many Asian languages today still use a form of the word “ketchup” to refer to sauces; a common example is the Indonesian word kecap (pronounced “keh-chap”), a catch-all term for fermented sauces.

When Europeans arrived in Asia in the 1600s, they were enamored with fish sauce (they’d long forgotten about garum) and took it back to Europe. Many variations of ketchup existed in Europe for hundreds of years, the most popular being walnut ketchup and mushroom ketchup (the practice of using fish eventually died out). It wasn’t until the 1800s that people started adding tomatoes to the sauce, and H. J. Heinz took it to a new level in 1904 when his company figured out a way to bottle and preserve the sauce using natural ingredients (the mid 1800s were full of horror stories about deadly batches of ketchup made with stuff like boric acid and coal tar). Heinz was also one of the first to add copious amounts of sugar to the sauce.

My recipe still maintains the sweet and sour taste we’ve all come to expect from ketchup, but throws a historical twist in for good measure: a bit of fish sauce.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Have you looked at the ingredients of canned tomato/spaghetti sauces lately? You’d think they would be very simple, but surprisingly they have some hidden and unnecessary ingredients. Even Trader Joe’s organic marinara sauce has soybean oil in it, as well as parmesan cheese; I don’t find the cheese offensive per se, but does it have to be in there? So, I decided it was time to share an easy, tasty sauce of my own, which you can use as the foundation to any tomato-based sauce.

Although tomatoes arrived in Europe from the New World in the 16th century, tomato-based sauces didn’t start appearing on record until the 1790s. There is a staggering amount of variation to this seemingly simple sauce, with names to boot: In the US, marinara can mean just a tomato-based sauce, but in Italy it often refers to a seafood dish. The term tomato sauce also refers to any tomato-based sauce, except in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, where it refers to ketchup (pasta sauce is the proper term there). Neapolitan is a meatless tomato sauce, linked to southern Italy. A ragù is a tomato sauce with meat (often referred to as bolognese sauce outside of Italy). Finally, call me old-fashioned, but I just like to call it spaghetti sauce.

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We had a ton of tomatoes from our backyard garden during our most recent harvest. Last year I canned tomatoes, but this year I decided to take it one step further and make and can my own sauce. When deciding on the consistency of my sauce, I decided to make a sauce that’s smooth and chunk-free; that way I could easily use it as a pizza sauce, and could then use fresh tomatoes (or a can of diced tomatoes) to add chunks to a spaghetti sauce.

Because the amount of tomatoes you have may vary, I decided to keep this recipe fluid; you could make this sauce with as many or little of those red, savory fruits as you’d like.

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