I love smoke. I’m not advocating smoking. Don’t do it.Cigarette smoke is nasty. But, I have to confess an appreciation for the fragrance of good pipe tobacco or a fine cigar. My Uncle Chuck, though, smoked tobacco that smelled wonderful. A whiff of lovely pipe tobacco still makes my heart squeeze and I think of him. And miss him. The smell of a wood fire always smells like winter, and home. Here in New Zealand, lots of households still supplement their heating systems and hot water with wood-burning fireplaces. At the first cold snap, the air smells like hardwood smoke.
I had a wood-burning fireplace in the basement of my house on Mt. Airey lane, but the chimney was three stories high (it was a row house) and didn’t pull very well. Every time I lit a fire, the house filled up with smoke, setting off all the smoke alarms, even the one the top floor — turns out the interior of the house pulled better than the chimney! I also discovered that wood smoke in large amounts gives me migraines. So the WBFP was replaced with a less evocative, but healthier gas fireplace.
Not only do I love the smell of smoke, I love the flavour of smoke. Smoked salmon, smoked cheese . . . smoked anything, really. Smoke is a boon to vegetarians. It is one of the ways to impart a rich, umami flavour to vegetables. I use smoke often in my cooking. I have a Camerons stovetop smoker that my Auntie Janice gave me for Christmas years ago. If you don’t have an outdoor smoker or a stovetop smoker, though, there are lots of videos on You Tube that show you how to improvise one.
Whichever method you use, it is well worth adding smoking to your vegetarian cooking repertoire. In my first invention test, smoke lifted tomato soup to a new level.
Smoked Tomato Bisque with Roasted Corn and Zucchini
I started out with a kilo or so of tomatoes, half Roma sauce tomatoes (which they call “low acid” tomatoes here in New Zealand) and half regular old slicing tomatoes. The first step was to smoke the Romas. I smoke the Romas because they are meatier and seem to soak up the smoke better. I just sliced them in half, lengthwise, put them in the smoker, drizzled them with a little olive oil and tucked five cloves of garlic in amongst the tomatoes. The garlic smokes nicely and comes out sweet, not at all “garlicky”. These smoked over applewood chips for about half and hour and came out looking like this:
In the interest of not overpowering all the other flavours with smoke, I roasted the slicing tomatoes, along with the kernels from two large ears of sweetcorn.
If you don’t have a stovetop smoker and can’t be bothered to improvise one, you can approximate the deliciousness by adding a teaspoon or so of liquid smoke. Then, you will roast all the tomatoes with the garlic.
Cut the raw kernels off the sweet corn. Don’t worry about getting every last little bit, because you are going to make a broth with the corn cobs. Just break the cobs in half and plunk them into a saucepan, add a little salt and sugar (which enhances the corniness of the corn, but is optional if you are really concerned about added sugar), cover with water and boil those puppies for twenty minutes or so. You can give the cooked cobs to your chickens. We have learned the hard way, however, NOT to give them to your dogs, no matter how much they promise not to yack them all up on your carpet!
Line the baking sheet with foil so you can catch all the sweet roasting juices. Drizzle the tomatoes and corn with some olive oil and smoosh everything around to coat the veggies, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and roast in a 425F (220C) oven for 15 minutes, stir things around a bit and roast for 10-15 minutes more till it looks like this:
The smoked and roasted tomatoes will slip right out of their skin. If you are sensitive to tomato seeds, you can also deglop them. I don’t mind the seeds, but I do like to remove the woody bit of the core that is right next to the stem. It’s not very nice. Put the tomato innards into a medium soup pot in which you have sweated two large chopped shallots or a small chopped onion with a Tablespoon of olive oil, along with the smoked garlic, a few kernels of the roasted corn, and the corn cob broth and simmer over low heat for a while. I like to keep it long and low, say 45 minutes, to really let the flavours combine.
While the tomatoes and broth are simmering, clean a couple of medium zucchini and halve them lengthwise. Remove about 2/3 of the roasted corn from the baking sheet. Smoosh the zucchini halves around in the oil and baking juices, put them cut side down on the sheet along with the rest of the corn kernels. Roast them in the same 425/220 oven for about 10 minutes, flip the zucchini over and roast for another 10-15 minutes, until the zucchini has started to brown. The corn kernels should be brown and crunchy. Cut the zucchini into chunks and set aside with the roasted (but not the crunchy) corn.
Let the tomatoes cool a bit, add a handful of chopped herbs (basil, parsley, tarragon, mint, or dill — whatever you like) then puree everything in a blender, or in the pot with an immersion blender. If you want a creamier soup, you can add 1/4 cup or so of half-and-half or milk. To make a vegan soup, just throw a handful of the roasted corn in when you blend the soup to thicken it a bit.
Now, add the zucchini and the rest of the roasted corn and reheat everything gently (especially if you have added dairy). Stir in a Tablespoon or so of lemon or lime juice or white wine vinegar and garnish each bowl with some of the crispy roasted corn and some more fresh herbs — I used basil.
This is not your mother’s Campbells tomato soup, but it is just as yummy with a grilled cheese sandwich.
This makes four main course servings, unless you’ve invited Simon over for dinner. Then it makes three. If you want more soup, just start with more tomatoes, zucchini, and corn.
1 1/2 kilos (or a little over 2 pounds) of ripe tomatoes, a mix of Romas and slicing tomatoes is nice
2 large shallots or 1 smallish onion
4 cloves of garlic, peeled but not chopped
2 large ears of sweet corn
2 medium zucchini
2 limes, 1 lemon, or white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh herbs of your choice (basil, tarragon, mint, dill, parsley)
kosher or sea salt and black pepper to taste
Liquid Smoke (optional)