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Remember when you were a kid and, after an illness, you’d talk your mom into letting you stay home one extra day from school (if necessary, going so far as to hold the thermometer up to the light bulb just to give it a little extra fever oomph)? And the main reason you did this was so that you could have one last lunch of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? To this day, outside of mashed potatoes, I can’t imagine an easier comfort food combo. Nor do I have to be ailing to crave it, though I’ll admit it’s no longer Campbell’s that I want. Thus my propensity toward sampling tomato soups on restaurant menus around the nation and even the world.

Bar none, the most satisfying I’ve ever tasted is Jarfi’s Tapas Room at the Jazz Factory’s roasted garlic tomato soup. It’s rich enough to be a meal in itself. Yet one bowl is never enough because it’s so good that people with you can smell how good it is — and you know what that leads to: They want bites (in this case, sips). They want to soak it up with their own bread. You /files/storyimages/up giving half of it away, and then where are you?

Well, you could order one of the other perfectly dealicious items on the Jazz Factory menu, but chances are high you’ll want more soup — this time a bowl to yourself. I’ve yet to see anyone who tries this soup not order himself or herself a bowl on the second go-round. It’s that good.

And what is it that makes it so good, besides the tomatoes themselves and those trusty Italian herbs, basil and oregano? Why, heavy cream, of course, which lends it a bisque-like texture. But that’s only toward the /files/storyimages/of the process. Note that the emphasis in the name of this so-called appetizer is on garlic. And why is that? Are you ready? The big-pot version of the recipe that the Jarfi’s kitchen makes calls for a quart of garlic cloves. Think about that. Picture it. Imagine the aroma. That is quite a load of garlic.

But never fear, for this garlic is roasted, which, as we know, mellows and sweetens the old bulb that is otherwise used to ward off vampires and unwanted suitors. A lesser-known fact is that garlic was so revered by the ancient pharoahs that Tutankhamen (a.k.a. King Tut) was placed in his tomb along with six cloves of the stuff. Medici-nally, garlic is best-known for its anti-inflammatory properties; it also improves blood circulation and is therefore touted (by some) as a natural cure for impotence, which may account for some cultures considering it an aphrodisiac.

All of which is a nice way of making yourself feel better about the volume of cream you’re about to ingest.

The tomatoes themselves should make you feel better as well. A person cannot eat too many tomatoes. Just as with real estate, where the magic lies in location, location, location, with tomatoes it’s in lycopene, lycopene, lycopene — the ultimate anti-oxidant. But only in cooked tomatoes. The heat releases the lycopene levels, and then it’s down with the free radicals! What we need to be more concerned with here, however, is which tomatoes work best at which time of year. And this opens up a whole new can of puree.

JARFI’S TAPAS ROOM ROASTED GARLIC TOMATO SOUP*
(provided by sous chef Chris Elseser)

The cloves of a large head of garlic,peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 whole vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 14 1/2 -ounce can of tomato puree
2 tablespoons fresh basil 
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a heavy skillet, roast the garlic in the olive oil in a 400-degree oven until it is golden-brown. Remove the skillet from the oven and place it on a burner over medium heat. Add the diced and pureed tomatoes and stir to bl/files/storyimages/the ingredients. Simmer on low for about 45 minutes, then add the cream, basil and oregano, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the mixture another five minutes and allow it to cool. In a food processor, puree all until smooth. Return to the pan. Reheat and serve with crunchy French bread. Serves four.

*Proportions adapted for home use.

If you’re making this (or any other tomato-based) soup in the middle of the summer, then you’ve pretty much got the pick of the fruit at your disposal. But if you’re making it in winter or early, early spring, you’re going to be much better off using either mature Romas or, better yet, cherry or grape (baby Roma) tomatoes. Year-round, the miniature tomato varieties remain flavorful, whereas hothouse tomatoes do not.

Most professional chefs are so opposed to the use of hothouse tomatoes that they will recomm/files/storyimages/canned over fresh, as the canning process intensifies the tomato flavor. The good news, though, is that in the past couple of years fresh grape tomatoes have taken the U.S. by storm because they are easy to ship from Florida, Southern California and Mexico, where they are grown in mass quantities. What may account most for their appeal is that they have a higher sugar content than any other tomato and are a cinch to pop in your mouth and swallow in one bite. If you use miniature tomatoes for this recipe, replace the amount called for below with one pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and reduce their cooking time by half.

The number-one rule to keep in mind about fresh tomatoes is that they should never, ever, under any circumstances, be refrigerated. Buy them ripe and use them ripe.

After all is said and done, here is the best news I can give you: This soup is so easy to make it’s almost comical, and it will leave your house smelling aromatic for days.


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