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Jacques Pépin on Making the Best Tomato Soup You’ve Ever Tasted

Ask Jacques Pépin what he enjoys most about food, and he’ll mention cooking with his family.

The renowned French-born chef, winner of 16 James Beard Awards, author of 29 cookbooks, and star of multiple television shows, loves being in the kitchen with his daughter Claudine, who has cooked alongside him since she was a toddler, and now his granddaughter Shorey, with whom he collaborated for his latest book, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Here, he shares his thoughts on the iconic winter comfort food: tomato soup.

World Tomato Society: In your book, you talk about teaching your granddaughter that great cooking begins in the garden. What kinds of tomatoes do you grow?

Jacques Pépin:I never remember the names! I plant different varieties every year—four or five heirloom tomatoes, beefsteak, and some yellow and purple tomatoes. Last summer, someone in California sent me a very special tomato called Ketchup ‘n’ Fries; the plant made tiny cherry tomatoes and the roots make potatoes. I’d never seen that!

WTS: How do you choose and cook with tomatoes?

JP:In winter, I’ll go to the market and pick up the best ones available. I try to buy heirloom and organic. In the summer, I’ll buy four pints at a time and let them ripen slowly for at least a week before using them. To freeze tomatoes, I cut them in half and press the seeds out. When you defrost them, the skin just slides off. One of the greatest ways to enjoy a tomato is ripe from the garden, with a bit of olive oil and coarse salt on top.

WTS: Your creamy tomato soup recipe calls for very ripe tomatoes. Why?

JP:Because that’s when its true taste comes out. The variety is not as important as the ripeness.

WTS: What’s the secret to really creamy soup?

JP:Use a blender or hand blender so the soup is emulsified and very creamy. To get the freshest taste, add 35 percent cream at the end. I’ve also used light cream or no cream at all. Sometimes, instead of flour, I’ll put two slices of leftover bread in the blender with the soup, which gives [it] some thickness.

WTS: What are the best accompaniments for tomato soup?

JP:In the summer, I have lots of basil in the garden, so I may blanch some, or put it into the blender with olive oil and swirl the liquid pesto right in the middle of my tomato soup. Or I’ll make croutons with leftover bread.

WTS: What makes tomato soup so wonderful?

JP:It’s perfect all year. In the summer, I make raw tomato soup by putting ripe tomatoes straight from the garden in the blender and serving it room temperature with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some basil. In the winter, I make lots of soup from the tomatoes in my freezer. It’s easy and always good.

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