A good friend is planning a birthday party for her sweet baby girl coming up in March and asked me for some help in the food department. The theme is "Legos" so I took inspiration both from the classic shapes of the building blocks as well as the vibrant primary colors. First thing I thought of was a tomato soup -- super easy to make, economical, can be made well in advance and tastes good from hot to cold, making it perfect for a party. To make the soup a little more special, I added a crostini of ciabatta bread I sliced thinly in a rectangle shape (like the blocks) that I brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven for 5 minutes. On top -- some cold sharp fresh goat cheese. The tartness of the goat cheese pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the tomatoes in the soup, and the earthy thyme I used in the soup brings out the earthiness in the crostini. It's perfect. She can make the soup a day or even two in advance and keep it in the fridge, then just warm it up before guests arrive. The crostini can be made earlier that morning, then just spread with the cheese about 30 min before guests arrive. It's nutritious, delicious, grabs that classic bright red color of the legos and will delight both kid and adult alike at the party! Good luck C! And happy birthday to sweet Lily!
Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese Crostini
2 large white onions, peeled and chopped small
8-10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 (24 oz) cans diced or chopped tomatoes -- recommend San Marzano
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, picked off of stems
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth -- recommend Swanson brand
1 loaf ciabatta bread
1 log fresh french goat cheese -- recommend Montrachet
Take a larger pot and heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pot. Add the onions and season with some salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper). Stir occasionally and cook onions on medium-low heat until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine; cook another 2 minutes stirring often so garlic doesn't burn. Add the tomatoes with the juices straight from the can all at once and stir to combine. Add the bay leaf and herbs (thyme and basil), then slowly add the broth. Stir everything until nicely incorporated and bring up to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat back down to low, cover with lid and let cook 25 minutes for flavors to develop.
After the soup cooks, take a taste and adjust with seasonings to your taste. If the tomatoes were bitter, you can add a small pinch of sugar (white granulated) to help balance out flavors. Once you get it to taste as you like it, remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Now it's time to puree it.
If you have an immersion blender, you can go ahead and puree the soup directly in the pot. This is the easiest way. If you don't, puree the soup in batch in the food processor. If using the food processor, it's best to let the soup cool down to at least room temperature; placing a hot liquid in the food processor you'll have to work in even more batches because the heat gives off steam, the steam carries mass, and that mass will make the lid on the processor explode and you'll have an epic mess all over yourself and your kitchen. Transfer the pureed batches from the food processor into a new clean pot, and repeat until you've pureed the entire soup.
At this point, you can serve the soup or cover and save it for later until you're ready to serve it. You can make the soup right up until this step even 2 days in advance. Just keep it with a lid on in the fridge, and when you're ready to warm the soup warm it at a low temperature until hot stirring often.
To make the crostini, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice your bread into thin slices and then lay them all out on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (for easy clean up!). Brush one side of each slice with some olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toast in oven for about 5-7 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. You want them to begin to turn golden brown on the edges, so make sure you're watching them! Don't walk away!
Remove crostini from oven. Up to this point can be done the morning of your party, or a few hours in advance of you planning to serve them. You can leave them out uncovered right on the kitchen counter. If you make them more ahead of time, go ahead and place them in a plastic container until ready to use.
To serve, simply smear a bit of goat cheese right on each slice of the bread. Personally I like keeping the cheese quite cold because I like the contrast of the cold cheese with the hot soup, but it's not necessary. Portion out your soup into bowls or individual bowls and float a crostini on the top and side. Serve immediately.