Not only way better than canned, but one of the best (and fastest) soups you can make.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and chopped, or one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, including the juice
2 to 3 cups water or tomato juice
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional
1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and carrot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, lower the heat a bit, and continue to cook, stirring to coat the vegetables with the paste, until the paste begins to darken (don’t let it burn), 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Strip the thyme leaves from the stem and add them to the pot along with the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles gently. Let the soup cook until the flavors meld, 5 more minutes.
3. Taste and adjust the seasoning; if the soup tastes flat (but salty enough), stir in the sugar. If the soup is too thick, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time. If it’s too thin, continue to cook until it thickens and reduces slightly (this will also intensify the flavors). Garnish with the basil if you’re using it and serve.
ADDING THE TOMATO PASTE
It's okay if the vegetables are lightly colored when you add the tomato paste, but don't let them get too dark, because they have more cooking to do.
COOKING THE TOMATO PASTE
This step gives the paste time to brown and lose any bitter flavor, so don't rush. Lower the heat if the mixture is darkening too fast.
The tomato paste is ready when it smells sweet and fragrant.
STRIPPING LEAVES FROM HARD HERB STEMS
Hold the sprig by the thick end and pull downward so the leaves come free.
It makes sense to strip the leaves over the pot so they fall right in.
There’s no need to peel the tomatoes; in fact, tomato skins intensify the flavor of the soup. If you don’t want big pieces of skin in your bowl, cut the tomatoes into small pieces.
Tomato paste comes in cans and tubes: Grab a tube when you see it; use what you need and keep the rest handy in the fridge.
Cream of Tomato Soup: Before tasting in Step 3, stir in up to 1 cup cream and cook the soup long enough to heat it up, but don’t let it boil.
Hearty Tomato Soup: Add 1/2 cup white rice, bulgur, or couscous with the water in Step 2, along with 1 more cup liquid. Cook until the grain is tender, 5 to 15 minutes, and be prepared to add a little more water if the soup gets too thick.
Spiced Tomato Soup: Instead of the fresh thyme and basil, try adding 1 tablespoon curry or chili powder or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón) along with the tomato paste in Step 1.