Recipes, Sides and Soups

Serendipitous Tomato Soup

It all started with an old, old recipe.


This is my favorite recipe for authentic Italian gravy (a.k.a. tomato sauce.) It was passed down to me by my mom and dad, who received it from my aunt’s Italian mother-in-law (who heard it from her father’s uncle – just kidding – but it really did come from my aunt’s mother-in-law.) I grew to love this sauce as a child. I savored the spaghetti and meatballs my dad made with the recipe, along with the little bits of pork that were in the sauce that gave it a sweet, rich flavor.

So how did sauce become soup? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I think my immersion blender may be partially to blame, along with some other liberties I took with the recipe. Let me explain.

When my heirloom tomatoes were harvested a few weeks ago,  I decided most of them would go into this tomato sauce recipe. Only this time, I decided to do things a little differently. I didn’t have pork or chops, so I decided to make it meatless. Since I wasn’t frying up meat, I cut the original recipe’s olive oil in half. I also decided to use a tomato sauce seasoning that I have mixed up in my cupboard for a different sauce recipe I occasionally use. Things were simmering right along, taking shape into a wonderful sauce when I decided to use my immersion blender (my favorite kitchen appliance second only to my rice cooker) to smooth out the sauce to perfection.

Lo and behold, a delicious tomato soup was born. I think the blender emulsified the olive oil into the tomatoes to give it a smooth, velvety soup texture. This soup instantly reminded me of the tomato soup they serve at Panera Bread. I’d even go so far as to say it could pass as a copycat recipe. Try it yourself and see if you agree!

First, the sauce seasoning mix. This makes quite a bit, and it can be stored in your cupboard or pantry for up to a year. Like I mentioned, I use this in several other recipes as well, so you will probably be seeing it again soon. It’s a great replacement in any recipe that calls for a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning.

Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix

  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup dried minced onion
  • 3 tablespoons sweet pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic

Store in an airtight container for up to a year.

Come to think of it, I’ll bet the cornstarch in this seasoning also contributed to my sauce becoming soup. Now, the soup recipe:

Heirloom Tomato Soup


  • 8 tomatoes (I used 2 large, 2 medium and 4 small. My tomatoes were a mixture of Cherokee Purple and Brandywine Pinks)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tbs of Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix (above)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can water


1. Skin tomatoes
Fill a large stock pot about half way with water and bring to a boil. Place about 2-3 tomatoes in the boiling water at a time, and allow the whole tomatoes to boil for just a minute or two, until the skins start to pucker. Remove tomatoes and place them on a cutting board to cool slightly. Repeat this with all your tomatoes. Once they are cool enough to be handled, slide the skins off the tomatoes and trim away any stems. Chop the tomatoes into sections and scoop out as many of the seeds as you can.

2. Cook Tomatoes
Empty your stock pot of any remaining water and heat your olive oil in the pot with the 3 tbs. seasoning mix. Once the seasoning is incorporated and starts smelling lovely, it’s time to add your tomato chunks. Cover and simmer for one hour.

3. Puree the Soup
Once your tomatoes have simmered for an hour, add one can of tomato paste and one can of water. This is where I whipped out the immersion blender and created the smooth soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, now would be the time to transfer your soup into a blender to puree until smooth.

I’m sure this would actually make a good sauce, too. Just adjust how much you blend accordingly for a chunky or smooth sauce. You could go super chunky and not blend it at all.

I hope you enjoy this sauce/soup!

In the Garden

Tomato Success Kit

Along with lots of love from the family, time spent with my mom, dad, father-in-law and sister, and a meal I didn’t have to cook (thanks, Hubberman!) Mother’s Day also brought a special treat my way…

A Tomato Success Kit from Gardeners Supply Company! If you have read through some of my other posts, you may remember I have a bit of an infatuation with the Gardeners Supply Company Catalog.

For those of you who might be considering this kit, I thought I would take you through the set up, step by step.

What’s in the kit:
The kit comes with the planter itself, of course, with a tray that fits neatly inside for self watering. It is also outfitted with a little watering drawer. Also included in the kit is a cage, container mix, coir potting mix bricks, tomato fertilizer, hardware for use on the cage, and instructions.

What you will also need:
You will definitely need a large container (or wheel barrow, or something) for mixing the soil. It will be too crowded to mix it in the container itself. Here’s what I used:

You’ll also need gardening gloves, a pitcher for pouring water, a hose or water source, and something sharp and pointy (drill, etc.)

Here’s why you’ll need something pointy. The first step is to remove the inside tray from the planter, locate these little cones in the container and drill holes into the top for drainage (if it will be used outside.)

Next, you’ll place the black tray back in the container and then install the inside piece for the watering drawer. One little tab goes over the tray, and one under on each side, as shown above.

The outside portion of the watering drawer is next. It easily slips into the opening on the front of the container.

This was the fun part – the coir potting mix! Open up your bricks and place them in the big container. Add the instructed amount of water and wait until the bricks absorb the water and expand.

Once the water has been absorbed it will look like this:

Time to break it up!

Next, it’s time for the container mix.

Mix, mix, mix!

The last component of the potting soil is the fertilizer. Add it, and mix it!

According to the instructions, this next step is important for the self watering functionality. Thoroughly press a small amount of the potting mix into the grooves of the tray in the container. This will ensure that the soil comes in contact with the water below and wicks it up to the roots.

Pour in the rest of the potting mix until the container is filled to about an inch from the top. I found the soil does settle a bit, so go ahead and be generous. I did have some left over for other containers. Bonus!

Next comes cage assembly. The cage came out of its wrapping partially assembled with some clips already in place. The instructions give a pretty good indication of where the rest of the clips should go. I will give one piece of advice here – the clips are a little tricky. They are strong, which is good, but that can make them a little hard to snap in place. Also, be careful as you slip them onto the cage. On several, I slipped them on above where they were going to be and slid them down. This resulted in the powder coating of the cage being marred. Not a big deal, but if you’re like me and don’t want even the slightest bit of damage to your new purchase, I would recommend placing these right where you want them to minimize damage to the cage. Here’s a photo of the placement I used:

Last but not least, you need to secure the cage to the container using the clasps provided.

That’s it! Also available are casters and a cage extension, though I do not have either yet. The instructions indicate that this planter can accommodate two large determinant tomato plants. Ever the optimist (or maybe I’m just naive) I placed two indeterminant plants in it. So I think I have a cage extension in my future.

I’m so excited to see my heirloom babies thrive in this planter. I’ll keep you updated on their progress!

In the Garden

Heirlooms and Chives, Oh My!

Time for a garden update! We’re still flirting with a frost each night, so I’ve been covering up the Grow Camp and the herb garden most nights. Here’s the latest:

The “salad bowl” lettuce plants have been great. I can barely keep up with them! They have made some lovely salads and added the perfect crunch to our sandwiches.

The little lettuce blend I planted from seed is coming along well, as is the swiss chard, which is showing it’s true leaves (far right of the photo, in shade.) It’s time to thin out the chard. I’m going to try to transplant what I thin, since there is still room in the camp. Crossing my fingers and hoping they survive!

The spinach seems to be aphid free for now. I’m still noticing some white specks under the leaves, but I think these are just calcium deposits. Notice the yellow bowl hanging out between them?

The red cabbage seem happy and bug free. The yellow flowers are the ranunculus I planted to lure the aphids. Ironically, I see no aphids on them. They’re pretty, though, either way.

The microgreens have sprouted, but they have been a bit of a pain in the toosh. On Easter Sunday, I neglected to water them in the morning and about a third of my containers bit the dust. I’ve been trying to nurse the survivers back to health ever since.

In the herb planter, the parsley and thyme have weathered the cold nights with the help of a cardboard cover my husband made for the top. The basil and cilantro sprouted, but the chives never did. So I bought some! So there, chives!

We finally have some activity in the light hut. My bell peppers have been major slow pokes. Three out of the six are finally sprouting.

These are Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes my dad gave me from his seed collection. They were a little slow to sprout as well, but they seem quite happy now.

Dad also gifted me with some Dagma’s Perfection heirloom tomato seeds. They too have sprouted. In the background, those are Sugar Sweetie cherry tomato sprouts. These are the bad boys that took over my Grow Camp last year. They will have a home on our deck this time around.

So that’s the latest! Have a fantastic weekend!!