My wonderful housemates (who are more like a self-appointed aunt and uncle), M (queen of wine and vodka beverages, lover of Mediterranean food) and D (her husband, scotch aficionado, and eater of all foods)(the proud parents to Lionel the wonder dog*) and I were hungry, tired, and a little cranky. M and I had spent the day running errands and D had been busy doing chores around the house. While M mixed up a batch of delicious lemon drops, D and I discussed dinner. We had a package of smoked trout, rumbling bellies, and no plan…
"To the internet," I cried, sloshing lemony vodka on my hand. The internet yielded a recipe for soup using smoked trout, tomatoes, and corn. It sounded tasty, fast, and summery. Perfect. As I am wont to do, I read the recipe a few times, and then promptly forgot it and began going about cooking by feel.
Meanwhile, M continued to drink her lemon drop. Mind you, she hadn't eaten all day. Needless to say, that lemon drop (and the one that followed it) did its job well.
Less than an hour later, dinner was served…and oh, what a meal. Fragrant soup, fresh bread, and a salad. As I sat and marveled at the interplay of rich smokey trout, crisp, slightly charred corn, tart, sweet heirloom tomatoes, and fragrant fresh basil, I became aware of muttering in the back ground.
Dear, sweet, M was completely….how do I say this delicately?...smashed. Blotto. Sauced. And was *loving* the soup. She looked up at me with vodka and bliss in her eyes and with only a slightly slurred voice, proclaimed, "Kristel, this is the best soup ever. Seriously, the best soup ever. I can't even believe how good it is. How did you make it? Oh, my God. This is seriously, seriously the best soup ever." M repeated this string of sentences, with slight variation, for the next 45 minutes. (Yes, we tease her about it to this day. She claims to remember nothing of it. We don't believe her). D and I, highly amused and mostly sober, had to agree. This was the best soup ever.
The rest of the evening was spent laughing at (with?) M and fantasizing about quitting our day jobs and opening a restaurant. This soup, hereafter known forever as "The Best Soup Ever," would be the first thing on the menu.
Well, so far, the restaurant remains a dream, and all of those delicious summer veggies are just a memory to most of the country, but this recipe still needs to be shared. Here in southern California you can still get decent corn and tomatoes, but I'm refusing to make it again until I can get the truly good stuff. I'd recommend you do the same – file this recipe away until your farmer's market is overflowing with goodness and then make this soup and be prepared to be blown away.
I'll do the same and post a picture back here of the first delicious bowl of 2007.
*Note: Lionel happens to be best friends/cousins/mortal enemies with my dog Fudge. Here is their most recent picture:
Photo courtesy of the talented and hysterical Jean Kinney -- otherwise known as The Cow Whisperer.
Without further ado:
"The Best Soup Ever" (6-8 servings)
(*Note: here is the picture from the first bowl of 2007. Go here for the story. )
--4 to 5 ears of the freshest corn you can find, shucked and cleaned
--olive oil for brushing
--1 tablespoon olive oil
--3 to 4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic
--1 whole onion, roughly chopped (red or white is fine)
--3 quarts of stock/broth (homemade chicken broth would be great, though veggie broth would work. Use water as a last resort.)
--2 small cans of tomato sauce
--1 small can of tomato paste
--1 or 2 tablespoons cumin
--1 or 2 tablespoons cumin
--juice of one lime
--hot sauce (to taste – I use about 2 tablespoons of the green tabasco, sometimes more)
--salt (at least a teaspoon –more to taste)
--2 to 3 firm, ripe, large heirloom tomatoes roughly chopped
--½ cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (stack the leaves, roll them, and then slice across the vein to make ribbons). Note: dried basil is not a substitute.
--3 to 4 tablespoons of finely diced fresh cilantro (again, dried is not a substitute. This recipe really relies on the freshness of these herbs)
--smoked trout – as much as you can afford, broken into pieces (at least 1/3 cup per person) (I made it once with smoked tuna – it was tasty, but not as good. Stick with trout)
--a few quartered limes
1) Brush the ears of corn with olive oil and place on a hot grill. A piece of mesquite added to the grill would be a nice additional touch. Grill the corn, turning it every few minutes with tongs, until charred in places and fragrant. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, cut the corn off the cob and place kernels in a bowl.
2) Sautee the garlic and onions in the tablespoon of olive oil in big stock pot until slightly softened. Add the water/stock and wait for it to boil. Add the tomato sauce and paste, the cumin, lime juice, hot sauce, and salt. Allow to return to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Add the corn kernels, and cook for a few more minutes. Taste -- add more salt, hot sauce, lime juice, or cumin to your desire.
Give each person a large bowl, ½ filled with the soup. Place on the table, each in individual bowls, the heirloom tomatoes, the basil, the cilantro, the limes, and the trout. Tell your guests to layer these ingredients into their bowls, in the amounts that they choose, and then stir to combine. Conversely, you could put the ingredients on top for them and instruct them to stir before eating.
You will be tempted, as I was, to add more to this soup. I debated on adding black beans, tortilla chips, sour cream, and/or chipotles. However, I really encourage you not to – the magic of this soup is in its simplicity. The interplay of the salty trout, smokey corn, tangy tomatoes, and sweet basil is stunning. More ingredients would just muddle the effect.
Eat. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Until next time….