Whatever the Weather–Serve Soup!

For most of this winter, the weather here in New England has been unpredictable. Unlike last year when we had two feet of the white stuff covering the ground and huge icicles hanging from our roofs, the snowplows have laid dormant in 2012. And the temperatures have fluctuated wildly—yes, there have been plenty of days with below freezing temps, but we’ve also seen the thermometer climb into the fifties a record number of times.  
This fluctuating weather pattern has put me in a quandary about what to wear. I pull out all my heavy gear to stave off the cold, and search madly for a light jacket or sweater that’s been packed away when it warms up.

But even more of a challenge is what to cook. I try to plan hearty dishes for chilly nights, but look for something less filling for those miraculously balmy days. One dish I have served throughout the winter–whatever the weather–is a vibrantly scented thick tomato soup topped with dollops of airy mascarpone whipped cream.

It’s simple to assemble and takes less than half an hour to simmer atop the stove. Add a salad of mixed greens tossed in a vinaigrette, and some warm ciabatta to round out the menu. This recipe is definitely more predictable than our weather has been!

Tomato Soup with Mascarpone Cream and Basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes plus more for extra heat
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more if needed
2 small pinches of sugar
Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained well
3 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup mascarpone
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
Fresh basil sprigs for garnish plus 4 teaspoons fresh julienned basil
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Add onions and stir and cook until just starting to soften, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add dried basil, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, salt, and 2 small pinches of sugar, and stir for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and stock. 
2. Bring mixture to a simmer. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Purée the soup in batches in a food processor, blender, or food mill, and return soup to the pot. (Or use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot.) Taste soup and season with salt, as needed. If you’d like the soup to have more heat, add 1/4 teaspoon extra red pepper flakes. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)
3. For topping, in a small bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, whipping cream, and Parmesan cheese until smooth. Whisk half this mixture into the soup. Ladle soup into 4  soup bowls, and garnish each serving with a dollop of the remaining mascarpone mixture and a basil sprig. Sprinkle each portion with some julienned fresh basil. Serves 4 generously.
Note: I like to use dried bail in the soup for a more intense flavor and fresh basil for its color and taste as a garnish.

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