August 10, 2011

soup's on, and so is the competition

I love tomatoes.  I also love contests, especially the winning part.  This is the story of how I won a contest that I had no business winning.   
I’m far from alone in the conviction that local tomatoes are the silver lining to the sweltering cloud that is summer in Tennessee.  In fact, people ‘round here love tomatoes so much that there’s an annual festival in honor of the little gems. 
Last year’s Tomato Art Fest included a plethora of activities, contests and events.  The thing that caught my eye was the recipe contest, calling for tomato-based soups.  I knew I wouldn’t make gazpacho.  That’s about all I had to go on, but I signed up.  I ended up making something using ingredients I had around the house, titling it “Pantry Raid Tomato Soup.”  
The day of the festival, I balanced my Dijon-colored Le Creuset on my five-months-pregnant belly and hesitantly walked into Margot.  I was nervous as all get out, realizing almost immediately that Margot McCormack and Kay West were among the judges.  One makes arguably some of the best food in Nashville, and one eats all of the best food in Nashville regularly.  My humble entry seemed insufficient for these palates, but I set it down beside the eight or so other entries. 
My family braved the scorching, unwavering, unforgiving August sun for me, waiting the two hours or so until the winners were announced.  It was too hot to enjoy much of the festival, though the vendors and events were many.  (We spent quite awhile borrowing the cool, cool air conditioning shopping at The Turnip Truck during that time.  It’s a great local grocery and we did score some goodies while there. )
Long, hot story short, I won!  The judges noted something to the effect that while none of the entries were stellar, my concept was clever and, well, not gazpacho.  If least bad equals first place, hey, I’ll take it. 

I will say, I think the soup is delicious.  The double-whammy of acidity from the tomato and lime make it a bright, zingy soup, and the combination of cooked and fresh tomatoes screams summer.  It needs less than 30 minutes’ cook time, so it’s a great weeknight dinner dish.  I’ve also used it as a chunky pasta sauce. 

Inspired by the tomato’s tendency to unite, this recipe was created with ingredients found in my home pantry.  
1 tsp olive oil
6 locally grown tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
dash cayenne pepper
course salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of one lime
Heat olive oil to medium in soup pot.  Add garlic and five of the six chopped tomatoes and cook until tomatoes begin to break down and create juice, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, and add beans (entire can is not necessary – add as many as desired), cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, about 10 minutes.  Just before serving, add lime juice to taste and the remaining chopped tomato.  If a thinner soup is desired, chicken or vegetable stock may be added.  Serve immediately.
While none of my kids will eat this dish, I have memories and photos of this family affair.  I hope someday my children adopt my love of food and cooking.  The process was certainly prize enough.
This year’s Tomato Art Fest includes a tomato salad recipe contest.  I hope to defend my title, but there’s some stiff competition this year.  I’ve been tweaking this year’s entry, and win or lose I’ll post it next week. 


  1. What a great story! And I think that soup sounds really good, though I'm not sure my tomato-hating husband would eat it. He likes traditional tomato soups, but if there are chunks, he'd probably pass. However, if that's what he's served...

    Also, I think this could be used with frozen tomatoes from the the season's leftovers. I may be borrowing this.

  2. I don't think there's a soup I like more than tomato bisque--I like the idea of finding everything in your pantry and just throwing it into a pot to simmer!

  3. This soup sounds really good.We live in the Nashville area also and I just was reading about the Tomato Fest yesterday! I am sorry that we are going to miss it but we are going to make plans to go next year. So glad that I found your blog and congratulations on winning this past year!!