What is it about blizzards that makes me long to cook the tomato soups of my childhood? Last year around this time, a blizzard inspired me to “cookoon” with Quick Tomato-Rice Soup (plus a yummy frittata). And now here we are, in the Blizzard of 06, and again I’m soothing my soul with familiar flavors long neglected, in the form of a Mexican tomato-noodle soup. Luckily it comes together in under half an hour, so I made a pot for lunch while on a break from my work.
This particular soup is one we had fairly often growing up. My mom was an exchange student in Mexico as a teenager, so she was a pretty avid devotee of Diana Kennedy and her impeccably authentic recipes. We couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients back then so Mom stuck to the more basic dishes, but nonetheless I was pretty sure nobody else in our town was eating these foods. Although its components are almost entirely pantry items, the Sopa de Fideo Aguada (Vermicelli in Tomato Broth) was both comforting and unusual, unlike any other tomato soup I’ve had before or since. There are two techniques that make this soup stand out for me: First, the noodles, little nests of dried pasta, are fried in hot fat (chicken fat by Kennedy’s standards, but I used vegetable oil), which gives them both color and a lightly toasted flavor. And second, the tomatoes are pureed together with garlic and onion, then added to the fried noodles in a sort of pan-roasting action. The end result is a little smoky, a little garlicky, and a whole lotta wonderful.
Sopa de Fideo Aguada (Vermicelli in Tomato Broth)
From Diana Kennedy’s Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico
3-4 T. chicken fat [I used vegetable oil]
4 oz. fideos or vermicelli [You’ll find fideos on the Spanish/Latin foods section of the supermarket]
¾ lb. very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped [I used a large can]
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped [I used 3 small]
¼ medium onion, roughly chopped [I used 1 small]
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley
Heat fat until it smokes and add the bundles of noodles without breaking. Fry until deep golden brown, stirring, then drain excess fat (leave about 2 T.).
Put the tomato, garlic, and onion in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add to the pot and cook over a high flame, stirring and scraping pan, until mixture is almost dry [the bubbling will sound different when you reach this point]. Add the liquid and the parsley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until pasta is soft, 8-10 minutes. Remove parsley, adjust seasoning, and serve.