Saturday, January 30, 2016


I eat a big salad for lunch almost every day, year round. But when the weather turns blustery and wet, I don’t really want to tramp through the muddy garden to pick lettuce or arugula. And, just the thought of washing lettuce gives me chilblains. I want soup! 

I make homemade soup a couple times a week. Recently, a broccoli puree with cheddar and a quickie minestrone, with lots of veggies, but no legumes or pasta as I’m still cutting carbs. (See last week's post for more low-carb advice.)

Robust tomato soup with bacon and cheese discs.
Today, it’s a traditional Spanish tomato soup. No, tomatoes aren’t really in season. But I found good plum tomatoes from the Canary Islands, really cheap. Canned tomatoes are just as good for winter cooking. Sun-dried tomatoes, an ingredient I found in La Mancha, give extra depth of flavor.

Tomato Soup with Bacon
Sopa de Tomate con Bacón

Tocino--salt pork fat.

The old-fashioned version of this soup calls for tocino—fatty salt pork. The rendered fat plus olive oil give the soup a rich creaminess. Bacon can be substituted for the tocino. (Or, omit completely if you’re doing a vegetarian version.) Smoky pimentón de la Vera gives this simple tomato soup a heady aroma, with or without the bacon.

Use any well-flavored stock—chicken, beef, or lamb—or, for a vegan version, mushroom.

Usually this soup is slightly thickened with bread. Since I’m  avoiding carbs, I eliminated the bread, but added about ½ cup of chopped zucchini to add a bit more body.

For a silky texture, first purée the soup in a blender, then pass it through a conical chinois strainer. You will be surprised how many tomato pips get strained out. Serve the soup garnished with discs of cheese flan or with croutons of fried bread. If desired, add pasta, such as fideos, to the soup.

Serves 4 to 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 thick slices bacon, chopped (½ cup)
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
(¼ cup fine, fresh bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
Pinch of cayenne or hot pimentón de la Vera
4 cups peeled and crushed fresh plum tomatoes (about 2 ½ pounds) or canned  tomatoes
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
6 cups bone broth or any meat or vegetable stock
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of dried thyme
1 tablespoon parsley leaves
Sprig of fresh mint
Fresh herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, or mint) or scallions to garnish
Cheese flan to garnish, if desired (recipe follows)

Heat the oil in a soup pot and fry the bacon until lightly crisped. Skim out the bacon and reserve. Add the onion, garlic and celery to the fat and sauté on a medium heat until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs, if using, and fry 1 minute longer.

Remove pot from the heat and blend in the pimentón and cayenne. Add both kinds of tomatoes and return to a high heat. Cook 5 minutes until tomatoes begin to sweat out their liquid. Stir frequently.

Add the broth, salt (quantity depends on saltiness of the broth), pepper, thyme, parsley and mint. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, 45 minutes. Cool slightly 20 minutes.

Sieve the soup.

Purée the soup using an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Pass the soup through a chinois strainer, pressing on the solids. Discard solids.

Reheat soup before serving. Serve garnished with reserved bacon bits, chopped fresh herbs, and, if desired, discs of cheese flan.

Discs of cheese flan to serve with soup.

Kid-pleasing variation--add diced carrots and fideo noodles to the soup. Grilled cheese and bacon on the side.

Manchego Cheese Flan
Flan de Queso Manchego

Flans baked in mini-muffin pan.

I baked this cheese “pudding” in mini-muffin pans, creating 2-inch discs. Otherwise, bake the flan in a cake or pie pan. The flan puffs up in the oven, but immediately deflates.

I was surprised to find caraway seed, which I associate with German rye bread, widely used in La Mancha cooking. It definitely complements the cheese.

Add these cheesy discs to soup or serve as a snack with wine.

3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups whole milk
Pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces cured Manchego cheese, grated (about 1 ½ cups)

Preheat oven to 350º.

Combine the eggs, milk, cayenne, thyme, caraway, salt, and cheese. Ladle into two mini-muffin pans that have been lightly oiled or one 8-inch cake pan.

Bake until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes for the mini-muffins. Remove the flans from the pan while still warm and let them cool on a rack.

Serve hot or room temperature to be added to the soup at the table.

Here are more hearty, vegetable-based soups:
Cauliflower soup with cheese flan. 
Meatball and vegetable soup.
Wild fennel soup.
Pumpkin soup.
Broccoli-rabe and beans.


  1. I love your blog recipes, Janet, and your cookbook, My Kitchen in Spain. I lived in Spain and attended the Universidad Complutense de Madrid many years ago. Recreating recipes and food that I ate back then and trying new recipes brings back wonderful memories. This is the second time making the cheese flans. They are so easy and taste delicious. I used gruyere because it is what I had on hand and they came out great. Thanks.

    1. Mary: How nice to hear that my recipes bring back memories of Spain! Your garden blog has lots of useful tips, easy to transfer to southern Spain.