Mostly tomatoes


My friend Molly turned 30 last week, and we – oh, hey, there she is now! Hi, M. Many happy returns to you! That's our friend Mary in the middle with the party eyes and backwards lips. Get your lips on straight, woman! Sheesh.

All right, who's that little mustachioed dudette, and who let her in here? Little bugger must've sneaked in through the back door while I was frosting the cake. Crasher.
Anyway, as I was saying, Molly turned 30 last week, and we had a dinner party to celebrate. Molly and I cooked up a storm roasted squash with cardamom, lime, and a yogurt-tahini sauce; eggplant with buttermilk dressing and pomegranate seeds; soup; whipped feta with sweet and spicy peppers; anchovies; olives; bread I baked a cake that I'm dying to tell you about, but I can't, not yet, because it's for the book; and my sister Kasey made (amazing! spicy! chocolate!) ice cream. Before the party, my friend Steph and I set up a makeshift photo booth (surprise, Molly!), and while Mia napped, Eli hot-glued 22 paper mustaches, glasses, bow ties, and hair pieces to 22 wooden sticks. Goooo team!

I love cooking with Molly. And that's saying something, because I very, very rarely enjoy cooking with anyone. There are people, I hear, who crowd into the kitchen, crack open a cookbook and a bottle of wine, divvy up the tasks at hand and get down to it. There's conversation and multiple knives in action, and music, maybe something like this. There are no lists or maps at all, just good food happening, and the mean heart rate in the room is andante, at most. It pains me to tell you that I am sooo not one of those people. But I often wish I were, and when I cook with Molly, I get to be. (Minus the wine. I'd never make it to the table.) Molly is unflappable in the kitchen. She's a scientist; her brain is packed with a boggling amount of information about how cooking works, thanks in large part to the book she put together for Cook's Illustrated. (Seven weeks and counting on the New York Times best sellers list! Yesssss!) But all that book learnin' (and writing) aside, Molly is an incredibly intuitive cook. She has fabulous taste, and I've learned so much from her. Molly said that for her 30th birthday, she wanted us to cook a meal together for her friends. I couldn't have been happier about that. 

Molly started in on the squash when she arrived, and I got going on the soup.

It was a tomato soup, a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's new book, Jerusalem, but different from the tomato soup, also Ottolenghi's, that I shared here last week. This one's lighter, more devotedly tomato, with a flavor that's delicate yet deep. The ingredients are mostly tomatoes, plus sourdough, which I thought was kind of weird, and more cilantro than I thought was wise. But the sourdough breaks down completely, pulling together all those tomatoes, smoothing them out, and the cilantro is cooked, so it does something different, something quieter, than I expected.You purée the soup before serving, but only about three-quarters of the way, so that chunks of tomato remain and there are still plenty of seeds to burst between your teeth. It's a magnificent soup. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was eating the best tomato sauce I'd ever had, only from a bowl, straight. Fine with me. At the last minute, we decided to toast some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. I suggest you do the same.

Happy December, friends.

p.s. - More photos here. 

Tomato and Sourdough Soup
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

This is intended to be a summer soup, I think – the recipe calls for some fresh tomatoes, some canned – but I've winterized it by using only canned. It might seem strange to hand chop a can of tomatoes when you're also using another can of already-chopped tomatoes, but the variation in texture between the hand-chopped and ready-chopped is very nice. Use the best, most flavorful canned tomatoes you can find. We went with Muir Glen organic tomatoes and they were excellent. A note about the cilantro: The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, not 2 tablespoons of cilantro, chopped, which would be significantly less cilantro. That may feel like a lot, but it mellows considerably when cooked. I don't typically have sourdough on hand, but my new plan is to buy a loaf, slice it, and store the individual slices in the freezer so that I'll be able to make this soup on a whim.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 2/3 cups, or 250 grams)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups vegetable stock
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 slice sourdough bread, crust removed (40 grams), torn into 1- to 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus extra to finish
1 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted in a hot dry skillet, then salted (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over a medium-high flame and add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and the garlic and fry for 2 minutes. Give it a stir every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking.

Stir in the stock, all of the tomatoes with their juices, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper – everything but the sourdough – and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stir in the sourdough, then cook for another 10 minutes. Add the cilantro, and purée with an immersion blender. You’re after a soup with varied texture; you want some tomato chunks and definitely some tomato seeds here and there. It’s a thick soup. If it’s too thick, add a little water.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and scattered with fresh cilantro.

Serves 4-6.


Payal Shah said...

I was about to make this soup, but instead just finished making the Burnt Eggplant Soup. I will have to make the Tomato Soup soon too.

racheleats said...

A sort of spiced winter take on tomato and bread soup - sounds bloomin delicious (I am pretty devoted to bread and tomato soup). It also sounds and looks like a fun and extremely tasty party. Now lets talk about teething, walking and bedtime! Actually lets not. Stay warm and well souped Rx

theplannery said...

AMAZING. Love love love

Molly said...

I could not love you (and Mia, and Eli, and Mary, and Steph, and Kasey, and everyone else in these amazing photos, AND this tomato soup) more, dear Jess. Best birthday ever. xoxoxo

Jacqui said...

You've got some good people. Good-looking, too. Happy birthday to Molly! What a great way to spend 30.

sara said...

so sweet. i love it. good friends are priceless and I don't mean that as cliche as it sounds.

koshercamembert said...

Seems like you guys are on the same Ottolenghi/Tamimi kick that I am. I just can't get enough of them! I also keep bread around for a rainy day - whenever a loaf of bread starts going stale, I slice the last few pieces and throw them in the freezer for soups and croutons.

I love these pictures - what a great idea to set up a photo booth like this. I particularly like the one of Mia popping up at the bottom of the screen.

Megan Ginsberg said...

Fabulous party and a fabulous soup. You even got my picky husband to like it. It was wonderful to meet you!!

momMe said...

Oh how fun and delicious!! Can I be on the invitation list for Molly's next birthday party?

GingerShelley said...

I am so happy about this post! It is simultaneously adorable, festive, sassy and dear.

I am pretty new to 'Sweet Amandine', having just signed up before the '30 days of November' blogging you committed to, which - by the end, made me pretty committed to you.


Nicely played, party and all... I want a moostache to take pics with at my next bday party celebration. O wait! I can borrow your idea and make my own. Cool. Thank you!

just got my copy of Jerusalem from the library today.... Love the adapted recipe for the soup.

Pardon me while I go laugh, crave tomato soup for dinner, and check out my book.more later.

Hannah said...

Mia in mustache! Mia in the bottom of the frame! How can such a small person have such a huge personality?! And you know, I am a Molly's Madeleine fan, and I never realized she had such a sexy pout! Something about the mustache really enhances it. :) What a joyful way to start a new decade.

I was a little worried when I saw you were talking about tomatoes in fally-wintery time, but I do enjoy Muir Glen canned. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Jerusalem!!

Holly said...

Mia is so adorable - I love the "peeping into the frame of the picture" picture. And, yes, Molly is startlingly beautiful. She's also the reason I found you! :) Great blog - love it when you post. Super writing, all the time.

molly said...


Nothing more to do here, my friend. Pack it up. Impossible to one-up this one.

Seriously, a huge happy birthday to Miss Molly, and were I in her same shoes (and at her same address), I couldn't imagine a finer way to spend it.

Also, Mia is an ace photo booth babe.

Happy December right back at you,


Bookdwarf said...

Great food and great company. Good times had by all I think. Thanks for including me!

Kelsey said...

I second Molly // Best. Photos. Ever. And what a tribute! I bet you are the best person to get a card from, so much love from your heart to pen.