Spring in Minnesota is a fickle thing. Temperatures seesaw between the 30s and the 60s, and blissful sunny days alternate with dreary weeks. There's always at least one April snowstorm, a final gasp from winter just to remind you who's in charge in these parts. Sometimes, you get mixed signals on the same day--last week, I bundled myself with a thick wool scarf for the cold walk to the bus stop, while optimistic songbirds serenaded me from leafless trees. Easter (especially in northern Minnesota, where I grew up) is far more likely to feature snowdrifts than daffodils. My practical mother never bothered to buy me and my sister Rachel Easter dresses, reasoning that they would just be covered up by winter coats. Instead, Rachel and I developed a tradition of spattering the leftover Easter egg dye in the snow, making a rainbow-hued arrangement of lines and drops against a pristine white backdrop.
Apart from the frustrating weather, March and April are when I tire of sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash. I want something fresh and hopeful, but locally-grown asparagus won't be ready until May. I could pick up some not-so-local produce from the grocery store, but the options--shriveled bell peppers, pale Roma tomatoes, flabby zucchini--are less than inspiring. Instead, paradoxically, I'm turning to the canned vegetable aisle to get my freshness fix. I've long been a fan of frozen vegetables, since peas, corn, and broccoli frozen at their peak are far superior to anything you'll find fresh in the off season. Likewise, canned tomatoes are a great choice for soups and sauces; because the tomatoes are canned when ripe, I've found them to be just as flavorful as the locally grown tomatoes at the farmer's market.
This soup is the perfect antidote for spring fever, with a pronounced fresh tomato flavor supported by basil, oregano, and garlic. Minimal ingredient prep and a short cooking time make this a weeknight-friendly recipe--I paired it with crostini with white bean spread to fill it out into a meal.
Adapted from Mother Thyme
Yield: 4 cup-sized servings, or 2 bowl-sized servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon basil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and tilt to coat evenly. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes, half and half, oregano, basil, pepper, and salt. Stir until well-mixed. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.