My mom has been making Julia Child’s Mediterranean Tomato Rice Soup for ages, so I have nostalgic summer memories of it. My friend and I made it last week alongside a quiche, and I made another batch last night to welcome my parents home from a long trip. My mom was astonished, saying she had been craving this particular soup during her travels and had planned to make it once she got home. This recipe comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 2 (the one with the blue cover). On the first page I see my Grandma Erna’s handwritten note to my dad: “for Rick, to add to your knowledge of the good things in life – Love, Mom.” What a treasure.
It’s a simple peasant soup, a breeze to make with basic ingredients. Since I am finally experimenting with growing herbs, I was delighted to use basil and parsley from my backyard.
Julia tells us to chop the tomatoes to make a chunky soup, but my mom always purees the tomatoes smooth before adding them to the kettle. I’m including both versions here. The original recipe calls for tying the herbs in a cheesecloth for the herbs, but my mom always chops the herbs and stirs them into the soup.
julia child’s Mediterranean tomato rice soup with basil and leeks
3/4 cup leeks, or a combination of leeks and onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lb tomatoes (fresh or good-quality canned whole plum tomatoes)
4 large garlic cloves
5 cups light vegetable broth
1/4 cup raw white rice
6 parsley sprigs, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon thyme
4 fennel seeds
6 large basil leaves, chopped
a large pinch of saffron threads
salt and pepper
few pinches of sugar
1 teaspoon or more tomato paste
salt and pepper
2 or more tablespoons fresh basil, minced or sliced
Thinly slice the leeks. Heat the oil slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Cook the leeks slowly in the olive oil until the leeks are tender but not browned.
Meanwhile, either chop the tomatoes or puree them in a medium bowl with a hand-held immersion blender. Mince or mash the garlic. When the leeks are tender, add the tomatoes and garlic and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.
Then add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then add the rice. Add the herbs and saffron. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
Carefully taste for seasoning, adding pinches of sugar to bring out flavor and counteract acidity, and small amounts of tomato paste if needed for color and taste. Remove the herb bouquet if using a cheesecloth.
Julia recommends serving the soup either hot or chilled (I’ve only had it hot), sprinkled with fresh basil.