With the holidays in the rearview mirror, I think it’s important to steal a moment and reflect on what has been and what it has all meant. To relish in its warmth and to let go of its disappointments. It’s a way to commit things to memory and cleanse at the same time. Hopefully for most of us, the holidays are laced with traditions that celebrate our favorites and reinforce their status in our lives.
This time of year always finds my heart drifting to my late Oma and Opa and Christmas Eve’s spent slumbering on their bumpy, musty pull out. I’d lie there as decorated branches dangled overhead casting a rainbow glow across my pillow. I’d finally drift to sleep intoxicated from the piney air and lulled by chatter flowing from the kitchen where I imagined the adults were toasting with Jägermeister and eagerly anticipating our bustling Christmas as much as I was. Those days I was giddy with excitement and willed myself to sleep with all my might hoping that morning was only a blink away. I didn’t think this heaven could ever be replaced or even rivaled until I met my husband and started spending Christmas with his Aunt Joan and Uncle Bob….now my Aunt Joan and Uncle Bob too! A definite perk of marriage.
The four of us make for an intimate gathering, a drastic contrast to Christmas at my grandparents where our herd of 40+ spilled into adjoining rooms, cramming our fannies into any open nook, arm rest or lap. Like Oma and Opa, Aunt Joan and Uncle Bob always make you feel like they’ve been waiting all day just for you to arrive. Like nothing and no one matters more than you. It’s an embrace they give everyone, but because they do it so well, I cling to childlike innocence that it’s just for me.
Besides Christmas and my beloved aunt and uncle, it’s pretty clear that the Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite things. Her warmth and charm spills into your home ….rousing in me that familiar feeling of “special”. Her new cookbook, Foolproof, happens to have a recipe for another of my favorite things…tomato soup, this time with the allure of saffron. As our small group sat around the table a few days before Christmas, sharing bowls of this simple soup, we fiercely debated the fiscal cliff and clashed (loudly in typical McCaw fashion) for what seemed like hours over political philosophies and the future of our great nation. However, even amongst the clatter, it was hard not to take note of the love we all share for each other and the special ways we each try to represent this truth. My soup may have been a modest offering on the surface, but our time at the table, reminiscing, dreaming, even “arguing” was powerful. A perfect moment in time.
Adapted from Ina Garten's Easy Tomato Soup from her Foolproof cookbook.
This soup comes together so quickly making it ideal for the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The genius addition (thanks Ina!) of saffron makes it special and worth the splurge.
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
- 1 TBSP minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
- 4 cups homemade chicken stock
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup tomato puree (I like Pomi)
- 2 generous pinches of saffron threads
- ½ cup orzo
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the olive oil over medium in large Dutch oven (I use a 6.75 quart).
- Add the onions and reduce the flame to medium low. Cook for 15 minutes until lightly brown; stir about every 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the stock, tomatoes, puree, salt, pepper and saffron and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the orzo in salted boiling water for 7 minutes.
- Add the drained orzo to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the soup cool for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the cream and gently reheat. DO NOT BOIL OR YOUR CREAM WILL CURDLE.
- Taste for seasonings.
Notes about saffron:
- Saffron’s distinctive flavor is hinged on a sweet grassiness. It lends a brilliant yellow-red hue to dishes like risotto and is the signature flavor in a classic bouillabaisse. It’s actually the dried stigmas of the crocus flower. A little goes a long way, which is good because it is expensive. In fact, its delicate nature requires that it be harvested by hand making it the most expensive spice in the world.
- When purchasing, don’t be tempted by saffron powder, always opt for threads. I’m sure many powders are perfectly fine; however, they can be comprised with less desirable saffron and “enhanced” with color additives.
- Select deep red saffron threads for more intense flavor and aroma. Yellow, orange threads will be weak and not worth the investment.