In between holidays, I’ve been having fun in my kitchen experimenting with French soups for my upcoming book on the same subject. One of the things that makes soup French (aside from being delicious) is the attention to detail in the garnishes and in the presentation. This fantastically layered and delicious soup gets treated to a garnish trifecta with housemade croutons and creme fraiche as well as bacon. In the book it is in the cold soup chapter, but it is just as delicious served piping hot. To go that route, instead of following the directions for cold below, just be sure to reheat the soup thoroughly before serving. I love the idea of serving this brilliantly red, white and green soup as a start to Christmas dinner. It would be the perfect prelude to a standing beef roast. Adapted from (draft version) The French Cook: Soups and Stews (Gibbs Smith, Fall 2014).
Roasting already sweet, available year-round grape tomatoes makes these royal-red gems even sweeter and a decadent flavor backdrop for fresh thyme-cloaked croutons and salty bacon. A swirl of crème fraiche (recipe and method to follow) on top delivers a crowning French flavor twist.
Roasted Grape Tomato Soup with Thyme Croutons, Bacon and Creme Fraiche
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
1 quart (4 cups) fresh red (or substitute another color such as yellow) grape tomatoes, thoroughly rinsed
1 large shallot, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar (or substitute cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper
For the croutons:
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 small, day-old baguette, cut into 1/4” cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 slices bacon, browned, drained and coarsely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup crème fraiche (recipe follows this one, below)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 450F. In a roasting pan or full-sized, edged baking sheet, combine the tomatoes, shallot, vinegar, and olive oil, tossing to coat evenly. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Top with the fresh thyme stalks. Roast in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to pop and implode, tossing 15 minutes into the cooking. Leave the oven on (for the croutons) and discard the thyme branches. Spoon the roasted tomatoes, shallot and any roasting juices into a food processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender. Use the chicken stock to deglaze the hot roasting pan, stirring up any browned bits. Add the stock to the processor/blender. Blend until chunky smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
To make the croutons, toss together the thyme, bread cubes, olive oil and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Turn out onto a small baking sheet and roast in the pre-heated 450 oven until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once. Set aside to cool. To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, top each with a dollop (or drizzle) of crème fraiche, 4 or 5 croutons, 1/2 teaspoon bacon, and a drizzle of fresh thyme leaves.
Make Your Own Crème Fraiche
Crème Fraiche, a thick, fermented whole cream, is the darling of Dieppe in the milk and apple rich region of Normandy, France. Though increasingly easier to find in the United States, it can still be a challenge. For a more authentic and easier crème fraiche when not in France, it’s best to make your own. In addition to its distinctive creamy flavor, crème fraiche (made with heavy cream) will not break when cooked into soups or sauces and makes a beautiful garnish for any soup, hot or cold.