What Morgan? You have an aversion to some perfectly normal food?! That's so unlike you!
I know. But, oddly, I like all things made with tomatoes: salsa, ketchup, marinara sauce (granted, I do pick around the large tomato chunks), but for some reason I just hate raw tomatoes. I think it's partially their texture, and also I don't think they have a lot of flavor. And the little flavor they do have, I don't like. Hence my need to have them in a very concentrated processed form, i.e. ketchup.
Nevertheless, I was looking forward to making this soup. Soup is just something that's so relaxing. It's hot and soothing and hearty, and most soups you can just leave on the stove for a while, so they also don't involve a really labor-intensive cooking process. Plus, look what I got for Hanukkah:
My very first Le Creuset! Sooo beautiful. It lives in its box when not in use.
As I mentioned last time, I got the ingredients for this dish during my ill-fated trip to Whole Foods, so I'll of course spare you any more ranting and raving about that, since otherwise, that would be cruel. So I had all my ingredients and my awesome new cookware, and was very excited to use more of my Homemade Chicken Stock. I heated some olive oil in my beautiful new Le Creuset and added onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic, and cooked over a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
While the veggies were cooking, I placed the tomatoes in my food processor, and pulsed a few times until they were coarsely chopped.
I know it looks like I have eviscerated them into tomato juice, but they were still chunky, I promise.
Once the vegetables were tender, I added the cubes of bread and cooked, stirring, for another 5 minutes. The bread will gradually melt into the soup and is what thickens this mixture and gives the whole dish some heft so that we're not just eating marinara sauce out of a bowl.
Next, I poured in the tomatoes, trying to get more tomatoes in the pot than on myself or all over the stove. I also added my homemade chicken stock, red wine, basil, salt, and pepper. I increased the heat and brought the soup to a boil.
Once it was hot and bubbly, I reduced the heat and partially covered the pot, so it could simmer for another 45 minutes.
At this point, I preheated the oven and got started on the topping. I cut more ciabatta cubes and cubed the pancetta, which had been in the freezer for about 10 minutes so it would be easier to cut. I placed the bread, pancetta, and whole basil leaves on a sheet pan, and drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing to combine.
When the soup was about halfway done, I put the sheet pan in the oven for 25 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until all the ingredients were crisp.
mmm bacon-y goodness
Using a whisk, I stirred the soup, breaking up some of the larger chunks of bread that hadn't quite melted into the soup.
The instructions say to add Parmesan cheese into the soup at this point and then serve, but since I had made such a large quantity, I added the Parmesan just to our individual servings, and then topped with the bread, pancetta, and basil.
Ta Da! Don't worry, the basil is supposed to look like that, although, I'm not really sure why. The crispiness just seems so unappetizing, and I expected the leaves to taste burnt and dry, which is why I just picked around them.
The crispy pancetta was nice and salty and meaty, and gave the soup a fabulous crunch. The toasted croutons got a little softer as they soaked so they were the perfect texture when I bit into one. I served this with a grown-up version of grilled cheese: pepper jack melted on ciabbata slices, served open-faced. I really liked the heat the pepper jack gave to the meal, so next time, I would add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, just to give the soup a touch of spice.
For about a week, I was re-heating this soup and toasting leftover bread and pancetta to eat as an appetizer for dinner. It kept really well in the fridge and reheated perfectly.
Make this when: you get home from work on a rainy or snowy day and just want to snuggle into your bed. The ingredients are pretty simple and it only takes an hour to cook, which makes it a perfect weekday meal. Plus, you can bring the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Next Course: A palette cleanser