I enjoyed an unusual and delicious soup Saturday night at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick, Vermont, while visiting the Northeast Kingdom for Kingdom Farm and Food Days. Claire’s is famous for its creative cuisine, prepared from mostly local, farm-fresh food. The Grilled Tomato and Corn Soup was so delicious, and so seasonal, that I had to try to recreate it while the memory was fresh and corn and tomatoes abundant.
With only the name and my memory to go on, recreating it was a tall order. Having a deceptively simple name, the soup I enjoyed was puzzling in its complexity. It was brownish red in color, roughly pureed and served topped with crispy sage. Slightly smoky in flavor, it had lots of black flecks throughout and spices I couldn’t identify.
Before leaving town, I picked up fresh corn at Pete’s Green’s, “the perfect farmstand,” and hoped for plenty of ripe Polish linguisa tomatoes at home in my own garden. The Polish linguisa is a beautiful (and huge) paste tomato, very sweet and perfect for grilling. Mine are ripening at about five to six inches long by two inches in diameter. A big, solid, low-moisture tomato.
As usual, flying without a recipe, I fired up the charcoal and dived in to create my own version of Grilled Tomato and Corn Soup.
Grilled Tomato and Corn Soup
- 4 ears fresh corn
- 8 to 10 fresh tomatoes (I used mostly Polish linguisa, along with a few orange blossoms)
- 1 medium onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- fresh garden sage
- roasted chili powder
- sea salt and pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
Grill corn (shucked), tomatoes and the onion (halved) over hot coals. I did not oil any of the vegetables before grilling, allowing them to caramelize (and burn here and there) directly over the coals. Because my grill is small, I also roasted five or six of the tomatoes, along with the whole garlic cloves, in a cast iron pan at 475 degrees F., allowing them to caramelize—and burn a little—as well.
Toss a sprig of sage onto the grill for a couple of minutes until it begins to smoke and become charred.
Grilling corn this way requires only about 3 minutes on each side, depending on the heat of the grill. It will actually make popping sounds as the kernels explode. The goal is to char about 25 percent of each ear of corn. Firm tomatoes take several minutes longer to cook through, and onions even longer. Both the tomatoes and the onion should be soft and partially blackened before removing from the grill and will require gentle handling with tongs. (The oven-roasted tomatoes cooked for about 20 minutes.) If all of the vegetables are being cooked on the grill, the garlic could easily be skewered.
(By this time, my smoke-fearing dog was hiding somewhere upstairs, probably wondering what cooking disaster I’d gotten myself into this time.)
Heat up a few cups of vegetable stock. (Mine was from the freezer.) With a sharp knife, cut the grilled corn from the cob. Roughly chop the grilled onion. Add all the grilled and roasted vegetables, along with the charred sage, a few pinches of roasted chili powder, salt and pepper to the stock and cook for about 15 minutes longer.
An immersion blender does a great job of blending this soup, right in the soup pot.
Make the crispy sage garnish by frying fresh sage (make sure it’s dry, not wet) for a minute in a little hot olive oil.
Serve soup hot, topped with a few leaves of crispy sage and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
Amazingly, my Grilled Tomato and Corn Soup looked very similar to the Claire’s version. Mine didn’t taste exactly like it, however, and it had a slightly different texture. The Claire’s version was a little starchier, as I recall, with a slightly smoother mouth feel. I’m guessing that increasing the amount of corn could create that different texture. I remain clueless on the mystery spices.
Although I might tweak this recipe a little the next time I make it, I’ll definitely make it again. I love the smokey flavor of the grilled vegetables and the rich, summery taste of tomatoes fresh from the garden.
The fact that I didn’t manage to match the soup I so enjoyed on Saturday neither surprises nor disappoints me. With only a name and a memory to go on, I took my inspiration to the kitchen and ended up with something even more satisfying, and uniquely my own.
What spices would you add to this soup? What else would you do to make it your own?